Curtis Jones, accused of killing Iowa City cabdriver in June, decides not to represent himself at trial

Curtis Jones arrives for a hearing at Johnson County District Court in Iowa City on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. Jones, charged with killing Iowa City cabdriver Ricky Lillie in June, withdrew his motion to represent himself at trial, and Judge Chad Kepros denied his motion for hybrid representation. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A man accused of killing an Iowa City cabdriver in June, after much discussion with a judge and his public defenders Friday, decided not to represent himself during a trial scheduled to begin Oct. 17 in Johnson County District Court.

Curtis C. Jones, 41, charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Ricky Lillie, 46, on June 27 in Iowa City, told 6th Judicial District Judge Chad Kepros he wanted a “hybrid” form of representation — meaning he may choose to make his opening statement, question certain witnesses and take the lead on other points during the trial, but also would have his lawyers present.

Jones first said it wasn’t his intention to represent himself. He was appointed counsel but he felt he could assist them in making decisions that “affect his life.” Jones said he wanted the option to make those decisions as the trial goes along.

Jones said he wasn’t altogether happy about the investigative work that was done and insisted there isn’t evidence that he committed the crime.

Jones is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole on the murder charge and 25 years on the robbery charge.

Iowa City police said Jones entered Lillie’s cab sometime around 11 p.m. on June 27. Lillie drove Jones non-stop to the 500 block of Ernest Street on the south side of Iowa City. Authorities allege Jones then shot Lillie in the head. Lillie’s body was discovered during the early morning hours of June 28.

During the hearing, Kepros, more than once, said he didn’t understand what Jones wanted. He was asking for the right to represent himself in a motion filed for the hearing, but was now contradicting himself. He told Jones that if he waived his right to counsel, it must be an unequivocal decision. The law allows someone to represent themselves or be represented by counsel — a constitutional right — but not both. The judge also said even if a defendant has a lawyer, it doesn’t mean the defendant can’t assist.

Jones said “it’s my neck on the line” and he questioned the ability of his defense lawyers, Dennis Cohen and Quint Meyerdirk, and if they were “working hard” on his behalf. He said he feels pressure to delay his trial and he doesn’t intend to do that.

Both Cohen and Meyerdirk told the judge they are against a hybrid representation because it’s not a constitutional right and it would be a violation of the rules of professional conduct.

Cohen said according to the rules a “lawyer shouldn’t form a partnership with a nonlawyer for the purpose of practicing law.” It also opens the door for an appeal. Jones could say the lawyers did too much during his trial or too little.

“Who would be the chief counsel? Who is second chair? And who will make that decision? A judge?” he said.

Cohen said that would present more issues. He thinks he and Meyerdirk can represent Jones and Jones can assist them. Or, he is happy to be standby counsel and provide advice to Jones if he chooses to represent himself.

Meyerdirk agreed saying if these issues continue to come up, it’s going to be impossible to get through all the discovery and do other prep work by the trial date. Issues like this don’t advanced them going forward in the limited time they have. It is hindering him and Cohen from exploring “all facets of this case.”

Kepros said he has considered everything carefully and looking at the law and circumstances in this case he can’t allow hybrid representation. He asked Jones to make a decision.

Jones finally said he would continue to be represented by counsel but did suggest he might consider asking for different lawyers.

Kepros cautioned him against it, saying his defense lawyers were highly experienced in criminal law.

Meyerdirk also told the judge they plan to file a motion Monday or Tuesday asking the court to keep out a police interview with Jones. They’ll also be asking the court to move the trial out of Johnson County.

Kepros set a hearing for Oct. 6 to take up those motions.

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