- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

An Alexandria, Va., judge yesterday removed from a case a lawyer knocked out last month by his client, who is charged with killing an 8-year-old in his great-grandparents' front yard.
Judge Alfred D. Swersky said court-appointed lawyer Jonathan Shapiro cannot continue to defend Gregory Devon Murphy because the Oct. 19 courtroom attack has created a conflict of interest between Murphy and Mr. Shapiro.
The judge, agreeing with the commonwealth's attorney, said any conviction of Murphy would automatically be suspect because there would be questions about Mr. Shapiro's effectiveness in defending an openly hostile client.
Also, if Murphy would be convicted on the capital-murder charge in connection with Kevin Shifflett's death, then Mr. Shapiro could most likely be called to testify against Murphy in the penalty phase of the case, the judge said.
"I can't conceive of a more active conflict of interest," said Judge Swersky, who called the circumstances surrounding the case unprecedented.
"This is difficult for me to do, and I have no doubt in my mind that you would furnish Mr. Murphy with the best possible defense," the judge told Mr. Shapiro, as Murphy, with his hands and legs shackled, looked on. "But I'm left with no other choice."
Murphy, 29, knocked Mr. Shapiro unconscious during a routine hearing to schedule a trial date. Mr. Shapiro suffered a concussion.
After the hearing, Mr. Shapiro who had wanted to stay on the case said he was disappointed with the judge's decision. He also added that he had met with Murphy "several times" since the attack and had no problems.
Mr. Shapiro said he wanted to continue to represent Murphy because he is opposed to the death penalty. "Mr. Murphy doesn't know what he's doing," he said. He said he believes Murphy is mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Murphy, who is black, repeatedly claimed during earlier court hearings that Mr. Shapiro and his other attorney, Joseph Bowman, were part of a racist conspiracy against him and asked the judge to appoint two women one black and one white to represent him instead.
At yesterday's hearing, Mr. Shapiro pleaded to stay on the case as Murphy sat in a chair several feet away from the defense table, with two deputy sheriffs standing nearby. Mr. Shapiro argued he had no "ill will" toward Murphy and that his client suffers from "severe" mental illness.
Mr. Shapiro based his conclusions on findings of a mental health evaluation that was conducted on Murphy since that hearing. Those findings will be sealed until Thursday, when a judge is expected to decide whether Murphy is competent to stand trial in Kevin's slaying.
"Mr. Murphy is delusional and paranoid," Mr. Shapiro told the judge. "He views his situation through a delusional lens. He believes there is a conspiracy against him. I believe the defendant's desire to replace me is a result of his delusions."
Mr. Shapiro said replacing him wouldn't resolve matters. He said Murphy would be dissatisfied with any attorney appointed to represent him.
Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel, however, argued that having Mr. Shapiro remain on the case could pave the way for an appeal if Murphy is convicted of the April 19 slaying.
Mr. Sengel also said there has been no finding that Murphy is incompetent to stand trial.
Mr. Sengel argued that Mr. Shapiro could be called to testify about Murphy's conduct in the penalty phase if Murphy is convicted. He also questioned whether Mr. Shapiro could fully represent Murphy and not fear for his safety during any meetings or court proceedings.
"It would be untenable to assert that these events would not give rise to concern for one's safety," Mr. Sengel told the judge.
Mr. Sengel also claimed in court that some deputy sheriffs overheard Murphy threaten Mr. Shapiro with assault a week before the attack occurred.
Alexandria Sheriff James H. Dunning, who oversees courthouse security, last night confirmed Mr. Sengel's claim and said he took additional security measures the morning before the attack occurred.
"Frankly, that kind of unprovoked attack was completely unprecedented," Sheriff Dunning said last night.
After announcing his decision, Judge Swersky said he will appoint one or more lawyers to help Mr. Bowman with Murphy's case. "Mr. Murphy has to understand that he can't control who his attorneys will be," the judge said.

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