LACON — A former Roanoke man who got a new trial after being convicted last year of trying to extort $10,000 from an 87-year-old Wenona man has decided to defend himself at his new trial in the fall.
Michael Devore, who now lives in Altamont, told Circuit Judge Stephen Kouri last week that he had reached that conclusion after the private attorney he had hired to replace a public defender withdrew from his case.
“I’ve decided to go pro se,” Devore said during a brief hearing in Marshall County Circuit Court.
Devore, 27, is now scheduled to face a jury in September on a charge of attempted financial exploitation of the elderly. The Class 3 felony is punishable by penalties ranging from probation to five years in prison.
Devore was found guilty last July in a bench trial before Judge Thomas Keith. But Keith reversed the conviction in November after Devore claimed that longtime public defender Patrick Murphy had not given him a chance to testify on his own behalf.
“(Murphy) said he didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to testify because it would (expletive) the judge off,” Devore told Keith, adding that he thought that was his “only chance” to beat the charge. “I thought it was important for me to be heard.”
As a matter of strategy, Murphy said, he often advises defendants not to testify, and then requires those who insist on doing so anyway to sign a statement to that effect. He said he “presumed” he had informed Devore of his right to testify even against advice, but that had not been documented.
The case involved a complicated set of circumstances in which Devore had replaced his mother as a caregiver of Charles Goodwin’s disabled wife. In December 2015, Devore threatened to report the older man for elder abuse and illegal tax activities unless he gave him $10,000, and he also said he had once threatened to kill a man while in prison, according to Goodwin’s trial testimony.
“So he said, ‘You’re going to give me $10,000 today or else,’” Goodwin testified. “I felt threatened.”
Devore’s new trial had initially been set for Feb. 27. But Maureen Williams, the attorney who had represented him in getting a new trial, withdrew at that time, and Kouri gave him until last week to find a new lawyer.
The judge warned him of the risks of representing himself.
“You understand that you’re going to be at a disadvantage, because the other side will be represented by an attorney with considerable experience,” Kouri said in reference to State’s Attorney Paul Bauer.
Devore had waived his right to a jury trial earlier in the proceedings, but Kouri said he would be entitled to “start over” and have one if he chose.
“I would like a jury trial if possible,” Devore said.
Gary L. Smith can be reached at (800) 516-0389 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Glsmithx.
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