HOLLIDAYSBURG - Nicholas A. Horner, who is scheduled to be tried next month for the 2009 shooting deaths of a sandwich shop employee and a retiree, wants to represent himself if his trial goes to a death-penalty phase, Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva said Tuesday.
An open hearing will be held Feb. 29 to review Horner's request. Many of the pretrial status conferences the judge has held in the past couple of months have been in her closed courtroom.
Horner's request to represent himself in the death-penalty phase requires what the judge called a Faretta hearing.
Faretta refers to a 1975 U.S. Supreme Court decision confirming that suspects have the Sixth Amendment right to represent themselves in court, but there must be an inquiry to determine if he knows the nature of the charges against him, the possible penalties, and the problems that may occur from representing himself.
Kopriva wants defense attorneys Thomas M. Dickey of Altoona and David DeFazio of Pittsburgh to comment whether Horner has the "ability to make a knowing, voluntary and intelligent decision on the matter of self-representation."
Dickey is Horner's attorney for the guilt phase of the case. DeFazio is to represent Horner if there is to be a death-penalty phase.
The death penalty will be a consideration only if Horner is found guilty of first-degree murder. Horner is charged with intentionally killing Scott Garlick, 19, an employee of the 58th Street Subway during a robbery, and then killing Raymond Williams, 64, during his attempt to flee on April 6, 2009.
Dickey contended Horner suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder due to his Army service. The prosecution has charged that Horner fought with his wife that day and robbed Subway because he needed money.
The judge has the right to order a standby counsel who would assist Horner in his representation but who would not be permitted to argue motions before the court.
Dickey, Horner's lead attorney, said he wants to talk to his client about the request.
"I need to meet with Nick and discuss this with him. I prefer he not represent himself," Dickey said Tuesday. "It's not a good situation. It's a death-penalty case and you fight for a man's life. You want to do it properly and do the best you can."
The judge's decision is a serious one but the issues are not complex because the law guarantees a suspect the right to represent himself, Blair County Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard said. She said it would be "prudent" to appoint a standby attorney in view of the seriousness of the charges.
Bernard said she did not believe the issue will delay jury selection, which is to begin March 12, or testimony in the trial, which is to begin March 19.