Despite the legal risk, accused killer wants audience with media
Accused murderer Ward Weaver has continued to talk to the media from jail, even after an interview with a television reporter in mid-February apparently contributed to his first legal team's request to withdraw.
The jailhouse conversations pose a risk both to Weaver's relationship with his new attorneys and to the public, which already has paid for almost seven months of legal work that essentially has to be redone from scratch.
'As a practical matter, we will be starting over,' Corvallis attorney Michael Barker said after he and Peter Fahy, also of Corvallis, were appointed to represent Weaver in late March.
On Friday, Barker had his first meeting with Weaver, who has been charged with six counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of Oregon City teenagers Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis and with raping and attempting to murder his son's teenage girlfriend. A conference on the status of the case is scheduled for April 18; Weaver's trial, previously set to begin Sept. 16, has yet to be rescheduled.
Barker last week declined to say whether he was aware of his client's ongoing contacts with the media. KOIN (6) reporter Drew Mikkelsen said he spoke to Weaver twice in March, both before and after attorneys Tim Lyons and Joseph Watson of Oregon City asked to be let off the case.
Ann Christian, director of the state Indigent Defense Services Division, said that because Weaver's case is pending she could not say how much the state paid Lyons, Watson and their investigator.
However, the total could be as much as $171,000, based on rates of $55 per hour for each of the two attorneys and $34 per hour for one investigator.
Christian said Barker and Fahy are being paid $80 to $90 per hour because they have a different contract arrangement with her office.
Vexed by KATU
Warner Johnson, captain of the Clackamas County Jail, said Mikkelsen's visits may be followed by other interviews by him or other reporters, noting that whether to allow interviews is an issue for Weaver and his attorneys, not the jail's staff.
'If Mr. Weaver wants to talk to the media and we can reasonably accommodate that, we will,' Johnson said.
Weaver has been held without bail at the jail since last August.
Johnson said Weaver apparently decided to talk with KOIN after an interview with a KATU (2) reporter aired in late February.
'He wasn't happy with the way he was portrayed,' Johnson said, 'even though he doesn't have a television. He was acting kind of despondent the next day.'
In the KATU interview, Weaver made strong hints about his planned defense Ñ information that typically would not be available to prosecutors until after his trial began Ñ and potentially prejudicial statements that prosecutors could use against him.
The statements included admissions that he was home alone on the mornings that both Ashley and Miranda were last seen getting ready to catch school buses at a stop near his house.
Lyons previously had advised the media Ñ in a release issued shortly after he was appointed to the case in late August 2002 Ñ that Weaver was declining all interviews. Weaver has acknowledged giving the KATU interview against his attorneys' advice.
In a written affidavit, Lyons and Watson said their request was based on the 'irretrievable and irrevocable' breakdown of their relationship with Weaver and an ethical conflict of interest between them and their client. The attorneys said they could not explain the reasons without revealing confidential communications.
Failure to communicate?
David Audet, past president of the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said the 'vague language' in the affidavit is typical of that used by attorneys seeking to withdraw from a case.
'Lots of times, what you hear is, 'There's been a breakdown of the attorney-client relationship,' ' he said. 'One thing is trust. The client is trusting the attorney, and the attorney is trusting the client, not to reveal confidential communications. Another thing is ability to communicate.'
Audet said he has seen clients' failure to keep communications secret destroy their relationship with him.
Neither Lyons nor Watson would say if the KATU interview was a factor in their March 4 request to withdraw, though the request came one week after the last interview segment aired.
Weaver declined to comment on the subject of his jailhouse interviews. The case's prosecutors, his former attorneys and KATU also declined to comment. However, Mikkelsen said KOIN had requested an interview with Weaver the night he was arrested.
Pretrial publicity has been an issue in several Oregon cases in recent years, said Oregon State Bar spokeswoman Kateri Walsh, including those involving Weaver, the murder trial of Christian Longo, and the slaying of a Catholic nun in Klamath Falls.
Walsh said a subcommittee from the Bar Press Broadcasters Council, which considers matters of concern to the media and the court system, is looking into how the interests of both can be reconciled and protected.