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Accused murderer fires four attorneys

Eric Wilson writes his own motions and now has won court permission to represent himself in his murder trial. Eric Wilson writes his own motions and now has won court permission to represent himself in his murder trial.

Pages of creative jailhouse lawyering and a file handoff fumble have led to a protracted pretrial struggle and an unusual court order in an aging murder case that shows no sign of reaching a resolution.

 

Eric Wilson is now on his fifth court-appointed lawyer, although he persuaded a judge to allow him to act as his own defense attorney on charges of first-degree murder and second degree kidnapping.
A Henderson County grand jury indicted Wilson on Jan. 19, 2011, for murder a week after police found his partner, Victoria Jon-Baptiste, gagged and tied up with a telephone cord at her house at 1119 Park St. "Daddy tied Mommy up," the couple's 4-year-old daughter told a Hendersonville police detective, according to court documents.
Wilson, who writes his own motions and pleadings in neat all-caps penmanship, has claimed from the start that the police are framing him, that they illegally seized his cellphone and other possessions and that his attorneys are out to do him in.
The case has been complicated by a mistake that gave Wilson the ammunition he needed to claim a conspiracy.
After he fired his first two court-appointed (and taxpayer-funded) attorneys, the state appointed a third lawyer. In the transition between attorneys, defense files containing material protected by the attorney-client privilege wound up in the prosecutor's office.
A judge ruled in February that the mishandled file handoff constituted a conflict of interest. The judge, C. Thomas Edwards of Hickory, ordered the case transferred to the state attorney general, only to reverse himself in a ruling last month. In a new order, the judge said it was OK for District Attorney Greg Newman to prosecute the case. Newman, appointed to the job a year ago, was a defense attorney in private practice when the defense files went to the wrong office. Newman and Assistant District Attorney Doug Pearson both submitted sworn statements to the court saying they had never read nor discussed anything in the disputed files, which a judge has sealed.

"Three times now I have been appointed counsel in the three years I've been falsely imprisoned," Wilson said in a motion he filed on Feb. 26. "With each appointment I've watched counsel trump integrity by their discretion to work against me, while holding overwhelming evidence against law enforcement."
He accused investigators of constructing "imaginary events," destroying evidence and "obtaining a warrant in bad faith and under false pretenses." He ticks off the offending actions by his parade of defense attorneys.
In a motion he filed in January of this year, Wilson said that Edney met with him in May 2013 and did not visit him in jail. Wilson complained to the state Bar.
"I was informed by an officer at the detention center in a rather mocking way that attorney J. Michael Edney was also a county councilman," Wilson wrote, and as a commissioner he "will not stand against the county or its officials."
Actually, Edney had filed numerous motions on Wilson's behalf seeking to suppress evidence police seized, to suppress statements he made after he asked for a lawyer and to throw out the case because of the mishandled defense file.
Edney received payment of $14,085 for his representation and was allowed to withdraw because the client had filed a state Bar grievance against him.
Meanwhile, Wilson won access in jail to a computer and the Internet to prepare his defense. Even after a judge granted his request, the accused murderer filed another motion, saying he was handcuffed and watched by guards while working on his case.
Superior Court Judge Marvin P. Pope of Asheville issued a new order, granting Wilson more freedom.
The jail, operated by Sheriff Charlie McDonald, has complied, said Chief Deputy Frank Stout.
"Even though it's taxing our resources and personnel to make sure that we're in compliance with the court order, we are doing everything to ensure that Mr. Wilson has due process afforded to him," he said. "We will fully comply with the judge's order in order to make sure Mr. Wilson is adequately prepared to proceed when his trial date occurs. It does stretch us really, really thin. We are in full compliance with the court order."
Stout said Wilson's case is unusual.
"I asked and traditionally this does not occur in a capital murder defense," he said. "They do have legal representation by an attorney. This is somewhat unusual for a person to attempt to do his own defense in a capital murder case."

 

 

 

 

Eric Wilson timeline

 

Jan. 19, 2011: Eric C. Wilson is indicted on charges of second-degree kidnapping and first degree murder, one week after police found his partner, Victoria Jon-Baptiste, gagged and tied up with a telephone cord at her house at 1119 Park St.

June 8, 2011: Wilson files a request to remove his first two court-appointed public defenders, Todd W. Williams and Beth Stang. A judge appoints David Belser in their place.

April 29, 2013: Belser files a motion to withdraw as Wilson's counsel.

May 9, 2013: Court appoints Michael Edney, a trial lawyer and Henderson County commissioner, to represent Wilson.

Jan. 17, 2014: Edney files a motion to dismiss the charges based on the fact that notes protected by attorney-client privilege had been inadvertently turned over to the district attorney's office in the defense attorney transition from Williams to Belser. Two weeks earlier, District Attorney Greg Newman and Assistant District Attorney Doug Pearson signed affidavits saying they had not read any of the documents protected by attorney-client privilege, which a judge had then sealed.

Jan. 21: The court rules that "neither Mr. Newman nor Mr. Pearson had read or reviewed or commented upon" any of the attorney-client protected documents.

Feb. 19: Superior Court Judge C. Thomas Edwards of Hickory orders the Wilson trial to be transferred from the District 29B prosecutor's office to the special prosecution office of the state attorney general.

May 7: The court allows Wilson to represent himself in the case.

May 22: Judge Edw

ards reverses his earlier order, finding that "there is no actual conflict of interest" and returning the case to the local district attorney. He also denies Wilson's motions to dismiss the first degree murder and second degree kidnapping charges.

May 22: Superior Court Judge Marvin P. Pope of Asheville releases Edney as Wilson's defense attorney after Wilson filed a grievance against the lawyer with the North Carolina Bar. The same day, Pope signs an order granting Wilson access to the Internet and the West Law website for legal research for four hours a week.

May 23: The state Office of Indigent Defense Services appoints Douglas L. Hall of Morganton as Wilson's "stand-by counsel."