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Man accused of murder seeks to replace third public defender


For Marvin Philander Smith, maybe the fourth time will be the charm.

The Baltimore man's first two public defenders withdrew from his murder case, he wants to fire the third one and hopes a judge will appoint a fourth lawyer to defend him.

Mr. Smith, who has a high-school equivalency diploma, told Howard Circuit Court Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr. at a hearing earlier this week that he will handle his own case if he can't get a court-appointed private attorney.

Mr. Smith, 37, complained to the judge that he doesn't believe his present attorney, Assistant Public Defender Daniel Shemer, is showing much interest in his case.

"I'm asking for someone that will help prove my innocence," Mr. Smith said at Tuesday's hearing. "I want someone who will fight for me, with me, in my case."

Judge Sybert has scheduled a hearing with Mr. Shemer and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell next Tuesday to sort out Mr. Smith's lawyer troubles.

Mr. Smith could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if he is convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend at Rocky Gorge Reservoir in Scaggsville.

His trial is scheduled for Sept. 12.

The assistant public defender who first represented Mr. Smith was transferred to Baltimore County and withdrew from the case last fall.

The next public defender withdrew in January because he was handling an unrelated criminal case for a man expected to testify against Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith's trial and hearings have been postponed six times since he was arrested last summer, in part because of his lawyer problems.

At Tuesday's hearing, Mr. Smith spoke to Judge Sybert at a bench conference, out of earshot of Mr. Shemer, the prosecutor and courtroom observers, outlining his reasons for wanting to dismiss his third attorney.

Trouble between Mr. Smith and Mr. Shemer began in May when the defendant told Judge Sybert that the attorney would not subpoena witnesses that Mr. Smith thinks will help his case.

Mr. Shemer, a public defender for 14 years, said on Tuesday that the decisions he has made have been in Mr. Smith's best interest.

Mr. Shemer said the state Office of the Public Defender will not appoint a fourth attorney to represent Mr. Smith if Mr. Shemer is discharged.

But the lawyer said he is willing to continue if Mr. Smith will cooperate with him.

"I am willing to do my best for you," the attorney told Mr. Smith. "You will lose this case. I believe your chances are far greater with me."

Mr. Smith is charged in the beating death of 38-year-old Vanessa Armstead, a Baltimore woman whose body was discovered floating in the shallow waters of the reservoir by fishermen on April 13, 1993.

Mr. Smith told police after Ms. Armstead was reported missing that he last saw her when they drove to a Baltimore liquor store in her 1977 Ford station wagon. When he came out of the store, he reported, Ms. Armstead was gone.

Mr. Smith was arrested two months after the slaying by police in North Carolina when a man he was living with reported to authorities that Mr. Smith told him he had killed a woman named Vanessa near a body of water.

In interviews with police, Mr. Smith denied involvement in Ms. Armstead's death.

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