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Thursday, April 19, 2018 1:00 am

Lawyer-removal fight dropped

Nakos won't be part of death penalty case

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Lawyers for a Fort Wayne man facing the death penalty have dropped a challenge to a judge's ruling in January that removed a defense attorney from the case.

They had asked the Indiana Supreme Court to review a decision by Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull to remove Nikos Nakos from the murder case, citing his workload and a lack of training in capital murder cases.

In court documents filed last week and made public Tuesday, public defenders Michelle Kraus and Robert Gevers asked to dismiss a petition for an appeal that would have allowed the high court to determine whether “the trial court abused its discretion.” The request was granted Friday, court records show.

Kraus and Gevers were assigned to the case after Nakos was removed and have questioned whether the judge violated Marcus Dansby's constitutional right to the attorney of his choice.

The dismissal lifts a stay that put on hold hearings and other action in the case until a decision by the Supreme Court.

Kraus declined to say Wednesday why the challenge was dropped but noted Dansby could appeal the judge's decision after a trial next year.

“We're not going (to appeal) before the trial,” she said.

Included in the documents filed last week is a page signed by Dansby that indicates he wants to move forward with the case against him.

Dansby is charged with murder in the Sept. 11, 2016, deaths of Traeven Harris, 18, Consuela Arrington, 37, and Dajahiona Arrington, 18 – she was carrying a fetus that was later determined to be Dansby's.

A fifth victim, Trinity Hairston, was shot and stabbed but survived.

Prosecutors in January 2017 said they would seek the death penalty, and there has been little movement in the case since then.

Gull said Nakos did not attend training for lawyers in death penalty cases and claimed the dozens of cases he is handling in state and federal court could affect his ability to represent Dansby effectively.

Nakos has said the rules for training apply only to public defenders and contends he is qualified.

Norman Lefstein, dean emeritus at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law and an expert on death penalty representation, said in January state rules for lawyers in death penalty cases apply only to appointed attorneys. He said a judge can decide whether to remove an attorney from a case.

Dansby's lawyers have also asked that a jury from outside Allen County hear his case. Citing news coverage and comments on social media, they argue he can't receive a fair trial from local jurors.

A hearing on the change of venue request had been scheduled for March 28, and it has not been rescheduled, according to online court records.

A trial is scheduled for April 2019.  

mleblanc@jg.net