LEWISBURG -- Slaying suspect Roderick Sims must wear a device that will deliver electric shocks if he misbehaves in Union County Court during his homicide trial, which begins with jury selection Monday.
President Judge Michael H. Sholley issued the order Tuesday during a pretrial conference to address several defense motions, including a request to dismiss first-degree murder charges against Sims, who is accused of gunning down his estranged girlfriend, Charity Spickler, 27, in a Lewisburg apartment on Sept. 28, 2008, after she left him and moved into a local women’s shelter.
Noting that Sims has been removed from the courtroom in the past for refusing to follow orders, Sholley said he had to make sure Sims remains under control for the public’s safety.
A remote control security device known as Bandit that can deliver an electronic jolt to the wearer will be placed on Sims’ calf and concealed under his pants when he’s in the courtroom during his trial. When the jury is out of the courtroom, Sims will also be shackled and cuffed.
Co-defense attorney John McLaughlin argued against putting the device on Sims.
Never crazy in court
“He’s never acted crazy in the courtroom in our presence,” he said, referring to himself and co-counsel Michael Dennehey.
Sholley dismissed the argument, responding that he’s responsible for courtroom safety and the trial would proceed in Sims’ absence if he refuses to wear the device.
During the 90-minute hearing, Sims repeatedly asked for permission to speak to the court and was refused. At one point, he tried to talk while Sholley was speaking and the judge loudly admonished him not to interrupt.
At the end of the hearing, Dennehey informed the court that Sims had taken exception to comments Sholley had made about him — including his demeanor and potentially disrupting the trial — and wanted the judge to let another jurist handle the trial.
“The defendant does not believe (Sholley) is able to be fair and partial,” Dennehey said, quickly adding that Sholley’s recusal was a request from Sims. “It’s not a motion I would have filed, if it were up to me.”
Sholley denied the motion.
When Sims again asked for a chance to speak to the court, Sholley refused, prompting Sims to speak anyway.
Victim of bias?
“This racial prejudice will stop when I go to trial,” he said, vowing to testify as he was escorted back to jail. Sims, who is black, has publicly claimed racial bias against him.
Racial bias was the focus of another defense motion to obtain the personnel records of Lewisburg Sgt. Fred Hetrick Jr., now serving with the Buffalo Valley Regional Police.
After Spickler was shot in the back of the head and lay dying facedown on a bedroom floor in Lorraine Reed’s Water Street apartment, Sims called 911 and spoke at length with Hetrick.
In a recorded 22-minute call, Sims admitted shooting Spickler because he was angry at her for lying to him after he found her with Eric Hitchcock, a Steelton man she had met a week earlier.
Sims now claims he was intoxicated and accidently shot her with a gun he had for protection because he had observed criminals hanging around the apartment building where Spickler was visiting.
Dennehey said Sims believes Hetrick may have been motivated by racial bigotry when he was obtaining his confession during the 911 call and wanted to review the officer’s personnel file to confirm it.
Sholley denied the request after noting it was based on supposition and Hetrick testified that he had never been disciplined for racial bias or dishonesty.
The judge denied several other motions, including a request to release Sims on nominal bail, due to the seriousness of the alleged crime, level of hostility and anger the defendant has displayed in the courtroom and written correspondence to the court the past four years and psychiatric concerns about his ability to manage anger.
The judge also denied a request to hire an expert to obtain Reed’s computer records in an attempt to prove Sims’ claim that people with criminal ties were hanging around the apartment shortly before the murder, causing Sims to have concern for his and Spickler’s three young children even though they weren’t at the apartment.
McLaughlin suggested that if the evidence is available, it could prove voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, which carries a much lighter sentence than life in prison under a first-degree murder conviction.
“They’re fishing for information to muddy the waters,” District Attorney D. Peter Johnson said.
Sholley ruled against the request for the computer records because even if drug dealers or “undesirables” were hanging around the building where the shooting took place, it would not be relevant to a justification defense.
Plus, he said, appointing a computer expert would delay the trial even longer.
He rejected the defense argument that homicide charges should be dismissed due to the length of time between the slaying and a trial, pointing out that the case had been scheduled to be heard by a jury on several occasions but was delayed by defense pretrial motions, competency evaluations and Sims’ request for change of council. None of the delays were caused by the commonwealth, Sholley said.
The one issue still under review is whether six photographs of Spickler at the crime scene and at autopsy will be shown to the jury.
Johnson said he chose the least offensive photographs in an attempt to show the “accuracy of this execution-style shot” that struck Spickler in the back of the head.
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