Criminal Justice

Pro Se Murder Defendant Wins Case

A high school dropout accused of killing a sleeping man represented himself at trial and won the case.

Harold Stewart was accused of beating the victim to death with a baseball bat. Stewart called no witnesses, yet Maryland jurors acquitted him last month after deliberating less than an hour, the Washington Post reports.

The trial was the second for Stewart. A judge had declared a mistrial the first time after the foreman reported that one of the jurors did not speak English well enough to understand the jury instructions. Stewart wasn’t happy with the lawyer who represented him, a public defender.

A private lawyer hired after the mistrial, David Simpson, had urged Stewart to accept a plea deal. Stewart refused and the lawyer withdrew from the case.

“Let’s just say we had a massive disagreement on how the case should be handled,” Simpson told the Post. He said Stewart had filed a flurry of legal motions in the case that appeared to be “gibberish.”

The Post story says Stewart had some problems making his legal arguments in the second trial. At times, he “embarked on long soliloquies, citing criminal codes without making a clear point.”

In his closing argument, Stewart noted that a witness who said he saw the attack said it happened around 9:30 p.m., yet he did not report the crime until around midnight. His case was also bolstered when an important witness for the prosecution, Stewart’s sister, changed her testimony. The first time, she testified that Stewart told her he thought he had killed someone. The second time, she said Stewart only said that someone might need help.

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