Man to defend himself in Howard murder trial

September 11, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore man will represent himself when he stands trial next week in Howard Circuit Court on charges that he beat his girlfriend to death at Rocky Gorge Reservoir in April 1993.

Marvin Philander Smith, 37, is believed to be the first defendant to go to trial in Howard County on such serious charges without an attorney, prosecutors say. Mr. Smith, who has a high school equivalency diploma, could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if he is convicted. His trial starts Wednesday before Judge Raymond Kane Jr.

Court officials tried to get a public defender -- one whom Mr. Smith fired in July -- to handle Mr. Smith's case during a hearing Friday, but Mr. Smith again did not want the attorney to represent him.

"By refusing the offer . . . I'm satisfied the defendant has again waived his right to counsel," Judge Kane said.

Howard Public Defender Carol Hanson told Judge Kane that an assistant public defender, Daniel Shemer, would be willing to handle Mr. Smith's case -- but only if the defendant wanted the representation. Ms. Hanson said the state Office of the Public Defender would not assign another attorney because Mr. Shemer already had done all of the preparations for Mr. Smith's trial.

Mr. Shemer is the third public defender to represent Mr. Smith. The first withdrew from the case because he was transferred to another county. The second withdrew because of a conflict with another case.

"I believe we met our obligations," Ms. Hanson said. "We are not in a position to duplicate all of the efforts Mr. Shemer put into this."

When Judge Kane asked Mr. Smith if he wanted Mr. Shemer to take his case again, Mr. Smith responded, "No, sir." Mr. Smith said during previous court hearings that he was unhappy with the way Mr. Shemer was preparing for his defense, saying the attorney had not shown much interest in the case.

One of the issues in dispute between Mr. Smith and Mr. Shemer is the way DNA evidence should be presented at the trial. The DNA tests show that Mr. Smith's blood was not found at the slaying scene.

Mr. Shemer said he preferred to present the DNA results in a statement with the prosecution that would be read to the jury. Mr. Smith said he preferred having DNA experts testify about the results.

Mr. Smith is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of

Vanessa Armstead, 38, of Baltimore.

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