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Citing shutdown, defense seeks delay of Stroupe murder trial

Chalk up another unintended consequence of the government shutdown. The shutdown has prevented defense lawyers representing accused murder Phillip Michael Stroupe II from receiving a potentially key piece of evidence from the federal government, a lapse in service that the public defender cites to support a request to postpone the trial for a second time.

The attorneys for Stroupe, charged with the murder of Thomas A. “Tommy” Bryson in July 2017, filed a new motion last week asking Superior Court Judge W. Robert Bell to delay the murder trial a second time. One reason for the delay, Public Defender Paul B. Welch III said, is that the federal government shutdown has delayed the government’s response to the defense’s Freedom of Information request for sensor data from a federally owned helicopter involved in the manhunt for Stroupe.
The defense “is informed and believes” that the data, “if and when received, will indicate the searchers knew or should have known where Mr. Stroupe could be located” well before he abducted Bryson and failed to act on the information.
For that and other reasons, Welch said, the defense needs more time to prepare a defense of Stroupe, whose first-degree murder trial is currently scheduled to start Jan. 28. In the motion, Welch repeated his earlier arguments that the defense needed more time to prepare an effective defense of a client on trial for his life. The time constraints that existed last May persist, Welch said.
Noel E. Nickle, a mitigation specialist assigned to the case by the state Capital Defender, said last May that she would need 18 months to complete the amount of work needed for “an effective mitigation investigation.” Since then, some tasks have been completed and some remain, she said, and some of what she’s found has led to the need for follow-ups such as interviews and records requests. Nickle said she needed at least nine more months to complete the mitigation investigation, which produces evidence a defense team uses to argue against a death sentence for their client.
“The amount of time the defense has defense has had to prepare is quite simply inadequate,” Welch said, even with the additional six months Superior Court Judge Robert Bell granted last summer. “It is well outside the norm for a capital case to be tried only 18 months after the alleged defense.”
Welch asked for at least 12 more months to prepare, given that the defense team needs to review, organize and evaluate more than 30,000 pages of evidence and hundreds of gigabytes of digital records obtained through discovery.
“We’re working to schedule a hearing next week” on the public defender’s motion, District Attorney Greg Newman said. “The answer is as we sit here right now it’s still scheduled to go (to trial on Jan. 28). As things stand right now we will oppose” the motion to postpone the case.

The public defender also filed a motion asking Judge Bell to disqualify Newman from prosecuting the case because an attorney Newman hired had represented Stroupe’s father, Phillip Michael Stroupe Sr., while in private practice.
Stroupe II and his defense attorneys believe the attorney, Jason Hayes, “acquired confidential information” from the senior Stroupe about the murder defendant, Welch said. The information, he added, “could be used to the detriment” of both Stroupes. Because the alleged conflict of interest “extends by imputation to the elected prosecutor and all his attorney staff,” the entire office should be disqualified, Welch said.
“Most of the information if not all information is duplicative for both of those cases,” Newman said. “I don’t think he possesses any information that would help us prosecute the case but he would not violate that confidence anyway. That is sacrosanct. You cannot pass it on. He certainly would not and we would not expect him to.”
On Dec. 17 Judge Bell granted the defense team’s request to return Stroupe from Central Prison to the Henderson County jail for “more frequent contact with his defense team.” He also granted Welch’s request requiring jail personnel to administer regular doses of medication for their client. An earlier experience of withdrawal from “one of more of these medications” was “strongly negative, and may have contributed to a suicide attempt.”
Stroupe is prescribed three capsules per day of Gabapentin, which can be used for nerve pain; two tablets a day of Hydroxyzine and two 50-mg tablets of Tramadol every 12 hours as needed for pain, according to records the public defender filed with the motion.