The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that a Chickamauga, Ga., man charged in the death of a young Walker County, Ga., couple has forfeited his right to be represented by an attorney.
The appeals court said the case of Howard Hawk Willis will proceed without defense counsel.
The ruling says there have been seven different attorneys appointed for Willis and he has battled all of them.
Willis is charged with first-degree murder in the 2002 slayings of newlyweds Adam Chrismer and Samantha Leming.
Willis was arrested shortly after the discovery of Adam Chrismer's head and hands in a Northeast Tennessee lake. Days later, authorities found the body of Samantha Leming in a storage facility.
There have been numerous delays in the case down through the years, and Willis has remained in custody.
The Christmers had known Willis about six to eight weeks. They once were students at Ridgeland High School. They came with him to the Johnson City area.
The opinion says, "Furthermore, the record supports a finding of forfeiture. The trial court found that the defendant used the tactic of suing his lawyers or filing complaints against them with the Board of Professional Responsibility as a means of coercing the court into discharging counsel and that the pattern was for the tactic to be employed as trial dates approached. The trial court gave the defendant ample opportunity to show via argument, documents, and testimony that he was justified in complaining about counsel’s performance. Nevertheless, the defendant neither articulated nor established any basis for complaint against any of his attorneys. Additionally, the record shows that the defendant refused to communicate with counsel and to cooperate with mental health evaluators.
"His conduct was egregiously manipulative and abusive of the judicial process; it warrants a finding that he forfeited his right to counsel.
"Accordingly, the order of the trial court is affirmed. The case is remanded for continued proceedings."