Trials & Litigation

Prosecutor tries first-degree murder case in front of two empty chairs

Observers are puzzled by the trial strategy of a pro se defendant in a California first-degree murder case who won a new trial, then declined to defend himself.

Held on death row for more than 20 years before his initial conviction was reversed in 2005 by a federal appeals court, Blufford Hayes Jr., 58, not only waived his right to counsel this time around but chose to watch his San Joaquin County retrial on video from a holding cell, the Stockton Record reports.

Hence, deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa tried the case for a week in front of two empty chairs, one for Hayes and another for his nonexistent lawyer.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing before,” said professor Michael Vitiello, who teaches at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law. “I’ve never heard of a case in which a person has simply said, ‘I’m going to waive the right to counsel and then just not show up.’

“If his desire is to stay in prison forever, he could have done that here.”

An earlier Stockton Record article provides additional details about the case against Hayes, who is accused of murdering a motel manager in the course of a burglary. He refused a 2010 deal that would have required him to plead guilty to second-degree murder.

It appears that the jury is still deliberating his case, because there is no news of a verdict.

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