Defending yourself in court a losing proposition

Walter Garrick.

Walter Garrick.

Sam Pazzano, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:41 PM ET

Walter Garrick, Angel Jones, Lawrence Brown and William Imona-Russell are strikingly-different characters but they all share one thing in common.

They all chose to represent themselves at criminal trials.

And all were convicted.

While defendants are guaranteed the right to defend themselves in front of a jury of their peers, the list of those who have failed to sway a jury to seeing things their way instead of the prosecution’s is a long one — and for good reason, says a lawyer who has argued on both sides of criminal trials.

“For example, self-represented people lack the knowledge on how to do a proper cross-examination,” aid Peter Dotsikas, a veteran defence lawyer of 14 years and a former Crown Attorney for eight years. “They won’t know what to ask or how to ask a question that will advance their theory, or present their account of events in order to contradict the prosecution’s premise.”

Garrick is one of the more recent examples of a defendant representing himself.

A self-styled businessman who allegedly fleeced Argos legend Michael “Pinball” Clemons and Grey Cup hero Damon Allen and others, Garrick, 42, was convicted of defrauding three men in Milton earlier this year, using similar tactics on those victims as on Clemons and company, and was sentenced to a 13-month conditional sentence on top of 10 months credit for time already served.

Justice David McCombs is reserving judgment on his lastest fraud trial until Dec. 19.

Jones is a “psychopathic thug” who chewed off his girlfriend’s nose and permanently disfigured her and is now serving an indefinite prison sentence. Justice Eugene Ewaschuk said in 2007 that Jones “destroyed (his victim’s) attractiveness and murdered her personality” when he declared Jones, now 35, a dangerous offender.

The victim was 23 when she was attacked and tortured by Jones on Feb. 17, 2002 after she picked him up from jail, served him a meal and made love to him.

Brown, an aspiring rapper, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the infamous murder of Georgina “Vivi” Leimonis at the Just Desserts diner in April 1994.

His case dragged on before the courts for almost five years before a jury found him guilty after five days of deliberations in December 1999.

HIV-infected refugee William Imona-Russell, now 38, is serving a life sentence for after being convicted two years ago of first-degree murder in the July 2006 sex slaying of Yasmin Ashareh — a 20-yer-old Somalian immigrant who was working to become a social worker.

Ashareh was killed more than two years after Imona-Russell was ordered deported as a failed refugee claimant and while he was on bail for two rapes against a former girlfriend in March 2005.

Imona-Russel took Canadian taxpayers for a $2 million ride, fighting various charges and living off the system. He represented himself, after firing at least three lawyers and Crown attorney David Fisher wisely convinced the court to appoint an amicus curiae (a friend of the court) to ensure a fair trial. Imona-Russel is appealing.

“Lawyers are skilled at getting Crown witnesses to respond in a way that corroborates their client’s version of events,” Dotsikas said. “If you are representing yourself, you will need to get witnesses for the Crown to agree with your account of what happened by cross-examination, which is not an easy feat for someone who isn’t a lawyer to do. While an accused has no obligation to testify at their trial, a self-represented person may have no choice but to take the stand and testify under oath to present their version of events.”

Justice Ian Nordheimer refused Imona-Russel’s bid to charge taxpayers even more money in defending him — a substantially increased fee paid by the attorney general in what is known as a Rowbotham order. The judge said the accused “squandered his opportunity to be represented by counsel of his choice.

“Although amicus curiae was not a substitute for counsel, it could serve the fundamental purpose of ensuring he had a fair trial,” wrote Nordheimer.

Anthony Moustacalis and Monte MacGregor, two defence lawyers who were acting in the role of “friends of the court,” performed in court as if they were Imona-Russel’s defence lawyers in front of the jury. But they couldn’t be fired by the accused, so the trial continued.

But even that didn’t deter Imona-Russel from attempting his delay the trial repetedly. He accused Moustacalis and MacGregor of conspiring against him.

Imona-Russel’s fate was sealed after only five hours of deliberations at the horrific murder trial that lasted over a year in pre-trial motions before finally be presented to a jury over the course of four months.

Unlike the industrious murder victim, Imona-Russel barely worked since arriving in Canada in April 2003, collecting a disability pension.

Ashareh worked as a volunteer helping the poor and as a supermarket cashier to finance her college studies.

Her mom, Asha Ashareh, worked two jobs and seven days a week to support her family, putting her four children through university.

One is an accountant, another a critical care nurse and her youngest son is a university student.

“This system betrayed Yasmin, a Canadian citizen who on the day she was raped and murdered worked eight hours to pay tax to a system that was providing HIV medication and disability pension to her killer,” Asha Ashareh said in her heart-felt impact statement.

“Yasmin Ashareh was an innocent young woman who was tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time when this horrible, unspeakable crime was committed,” said Fisher.

*****

ANGEL JONES

He fired his lawyer and took over for himself after the lawyer finished cross-examining the female victim in 2004.

The victim, who cannot be identified, was 23 when she was attacked and tortured by Jones on Feb. 17, 2002, after she picked him up from jail that day, served him a meal and made love to him.

In his vile closing to the jury, Jones used obscene terms to describe his victim while arguing there was a lack of forensic evidence against him. That argument was ludicrous as police caught Jones inflicting the bloody attack that one officer described as a carnivorous scene from “National Geographic.”

The jury convicted him in less than two hours. Jones testified that the victim’s nose “popped off in his mouth.”

Friend of the court, Emma Rhodes, acted on behalf of the court during Jones’ dangerous offender (DO) hearing. Rhodes said Jones never understood what a DO designation was or that it meant an indefinite sentence.

LAWRENCE BROWN

The prosecution alleged Brown, whose nickname was “Brownman” was the gunman with the distinctive gait seen on the restaurant surveillance video, which was played countless times during the trial that started in April and ended in December 1999.

Tall and lanky, Brown demonstrated the same stroll with his hands in his pockets as he walked to the podium throughout the trial.

His profanity-laced closing arguments likely turned off some jury members as they convicted him and Gary Francis of robbery and manslaughter, but acquitted O’Neil Grant, who was subsequently deported and murdered in Jamaica in 2007.

Brown and Francis each received 15-year sentences.

WALTER GARRICK

Although he is well-spoken and intelligent, Garrick floundered by representing himself at this trial after being convicted in a fraud trial earlier this year.

He is serving a 13-month conditional (non-custodial) sentence on top of credit for 10 months of pretrial custody.

In the earlier trial, Justice Leonard Ricchetti said Garrick “created a world of smoke and mirrors regarding his past, his wealth, his friends and his business deals” and branded his testimony as “confusing, inconsistent and quite often unbelievable.”

In his current trial, Garrick asserted that he paid back some money through a wire transfer and cash to former Argos quarterback and CFL legend Damon Allen.

Garrick suggested that he gave Clemons $20,000 to give to Allen. But Allen denied receiving it. The problem for Garrick was that he never asked Pinball the same question. A defence lawyer must give witnesses a chance to respond to an alternative theory — some money was repaid — but Garrick failed to do this in his own defence.

WILLIAM IMONA-RUSSEL

His legal and other related fees cost Ontario taxpayers millions of dollars since coming to Canada from Nigeria in 2003 on a false passport.

At his murder trial in 2009-10, it was the first time in legal history that a designated amicus curiae — or in this case amici curiae because there were two sharing the duties — were required to conduct a complete defence and cross-examine witnesses. But their court-appointed status meant that the accused couldn’t fire his lawyers and prolong the process.

Imona-Russel worked for only a few months before going on a disability pension after learning he was HIV-positive.

His refugee claim was denied and his deportation order became enforceable on April 21, 2004, but he couldn’t be shipped out because he had no valid ID or travel documents and hadn’t exhausted all legal appeals.

 

 


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