GRETNA, La. (AP) - A man accused of killing and dismembering a stripper lured from New Orleans’ French Quarter has returned his defense to lawyers after one day of cross-examining prosecution witnesses.
After a break Jefferson Parish District Judge Stephen Grefer called court into session without the jury present.
“Mr. Speaks has decided he no longer wishes to defend himself,” Grefer said.
He asked Speaks whether he understood that he would be the defendant only, and his previously appointed public defenders would represent him. Speaks said yes.
The judge brought jurors back to tell them and ended court about 6 p.m.
He had said earlier that court might go as late as 7 p.m. But he told defense attorneys he was giving them time to prepare for Wednesday’s session.
Speaks and ex-girlfriend Margaret Sanchez, whose trial date has not been scheduled, are charged with second-degree murder of 22-year-old Jaren Lockhart, whose head, torso, lower legs and left thigh were found on Mississippi beaches in June 2012. They’re also accused of plotting to derail investigators by dismembering her, cutting tattoos from her body and scrubbing down their apartment and Sanchez’s car. A tattoo behind one ear and DNA helped identify Lockhart.
Both pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, which carries an automatic life sentence, and to obstructing justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. As a multiple offender, Speaks could get life if convicted only on the obstruction charge, Grefer noted Monday.
Speaks told jurors that Assistant District Attorney Douglas Freese’s opening statement was convincing but not evidence.
“I tell you, after hearing that opening argument I’m ready to convict me myself,” Terry Speaks told jurors.
He was immediately interrupted - the first of several times - by prosecutors objecting that he was making arguments. Each time, Grefer told Speaks he could only tell jurors what he expected the evidence to show.
Speaks continued by saying that Freese’s “theory … is going to need to be proved. And it’s going to need to be proved with facts.”
Freese told jurors that evidence will show that Speaks and Sanchez lured Lockhart from Temptations Gentlemens Club with offers of money they didn’t have. He said photographs will show they were together for more than 12 minutes in the French Quarter and that Sanchez’s car was nearing their home 20 minutes after the last video showing Lockhart alive.
He said testimony will also show that the apartment where Speaks and Sanchez lived and Sanchez’s usually “filthy” car were both - unusually - scrubbed between June 6, when Lockhart disappeared, and June 12, when the defendants were arrested.
Freese said Speaks showed knowledge of guilt by running from police.
He said Speaks ran after a police officer stopped Sanchez’s car on June 12 in Tangipahoa Parish.
Before his arrest that day, Freese said, Speaks held up something - not a gun - and said, “I have a gun. Shoot me.”
“You will conclude that is an expression of his consciousness of guilt … It is trying to engage police officers in what is called suicide by cop,” Freese said.
Early witnesses included Dr. Dana Troxclair, the Jefferson Parish coroner’s office forensic pathologist who reviewed the autopsy report and photographs from the coroner’s office in Harrison County, Mississippi.
As photographs of Lockhart’s remains were shown on a big screen, Troxclair pointed out bruises on the neck, sides and legs, which she said were consistent with being held down, and around the stab wound - probably from the fist that slammed a knife through Lockhart’s breastbone and heart.
She pointed out places where skin was removed, and Freese showed photos of Lockhart showing tattoos on corresponding areas.
Brandon Normand, an investigator with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, described both tracking down videos of Speaks, Sanchez and Lockhart and getting a DNA swab from Lockhart’s 3-year-old daughter, Riley.
Afterward, he testified, “She said, ‘OK, you have it. Please find her.’”
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