tampabay.com

Defense wants time to appeal

By JOHN FRANK
Published February 1, 2007


INVERNESS - With mounds of new evidence to investigate and the high-profile trial just days away, defense attorneys for the man accused of killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford are appealing to a higher court for help.

John Couey's defense team filed multiple motions Wednesday asking Circuit Judge Ric Howard to stay the proceedings so it can challenge his latest ruling to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.

On Jan. 24, Howard rejected the defense's request for additional time to prepare its case for the Feb. 12 trial after the prosecution provided more than 1,000 pages of fresh evidence and about a dozen new witnesses - two of whom are key to the state's case.

To help with the extra workload, Howard appointed a third defense co-counsel, Inverness attorney Charles P. Vaughn.

In doing so, the defense now argues that Howard acted "improperly or in excess of his constitutional and statutory authority." It wants Howard to halt the trial until the appellate court can review the motion.

Public Defender Howard "Skip" Babb wrote in a motion that Vaughn's assignment to the case only further delayed the defense's ability to prepare because attorneys had to bring him up to speed.

"The defense submits that the appointment of Charles Vaughn to the case at this late date ... is akin to placing a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound, and has the practical effect of sanctioning the defense for the state's substantial discovery violation," Babb wrote.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said the defense is stalling. They've had a week to begin depositions of the new witnesses but haven't even scheduled them, he said.

"I think if they spent the time preparing for trial that they spent preparing this motion, they'd be ready for trial," he said.

Ridgway said in his experience requests like this are rarely granted. "With a 2-year-old murder trial, getting the (appeals court) to step in - it doesn't happen," he said.

Jury selection to start

A decision is expected today during the last scheduled hearing with Howard before the court moves to Miami for jury selection beginning Feb. 12.

Couey is charged with kidnapping, raping and killing Jessica in February 2005. The state is seeking the death penalty.

At today's hearing, Vaughn is likely to expound on information he provided in an affidavit earlier this week.

He says he "cannot be prepared adequately to help the team at trial or depositions."

Also, Vaughn said that the Justice Administration Commission cannot pay him because he is not an appointed conflict counsel by the Public Defender's Office.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 860-7312.