Suspect in Iowa rest stop killing says she wants to represent herself

Mariana Lesnic asks judge to remove public defender from her case

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MARENGO — A woman charged with killing a Monroe truck driver at an Interstate 80 rest stop near Victor in September will ask a judge this week to remove her public defender because she wants to represent herself at trial.

Mariana Lesnic, 43, charged with first-degree murder, said in a letter to the court that she doesn’t want Johnson County Chief Public Defender Peter Persaud or any of his assistants to represent her. She’s “unhappy” with them and their plans to defend her, according to her letter filed earlier this month in Iowa County District Court.

Lesnic, whose address is unknown to police, is accused of fatally shooting Ernest Kummer, 60, who was found dead from a gunshot wound to his head inside the sleep cab of his semi-trailer truck about 2:37 a.m. Sept. 6. The truck was parked at the westbound I-80 rest stop near Victor, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Lesnic has pleaded not guilty and her trial is set for Jan. 23. She remains in jail with bail set at $1 million.

Another lawyer, Eric Tindal of Iowa City, was appointed to counsel Lesnic on a decision to represent herself, and he is asking the court that Lesnic be evaluated for competency to stand trial and to determine if she’s competent to represent herself.

In his motion, Tindal said he plans to file a more detailed report about his discussions with Lesnic, but asked that it be filed under seal. He did say in the motion that after meeting and talking with Lesnic about the trial and process, he has serious concerns. Lesnic has a “particularly high level of cynicism about the process to the point in which she cannot even complete a brief discussion about the steps of the trial and rules of evidence,” he points out.  

Tindal, also in the motion, said there is “probable cause” to believe Lesnic isn’t competent to stand trial and assist in her own defense. He said there is a “bit of a quandary” because Lesnic is an “intelligent and articulate” person, but she refuses to discuss the nature of the case and have any discussion about the basic aspects of the trial. This raises questions as to whether she can organize a defense, make motions, argue points of law, select a jury and question witnesses, Tindal added.

A judge hasn’t yet ruled on the evaluation at this time. A hearing is set for Friday on Lesnic’s request to represent herself.

Police haven’t released a motive in the fatal shooting of Kummer.

An affidavit shows Lesnic was the person who called 911 about the shooting. She told police she shot Kummer and was “sick over it.” Lesnic told officers the small, semi-automatic gun was in her purse, which was found on the ground next to her at the scene, according to the affidavit.     

Investigators also requested a search warrant to examine cellphone records between Lesnic and Kummer and two thumb drives from Lesnic’s purse, court documents show.

All other electronic equipment, including any global positioning system devices, also were confiscated and examined to retrieve any possible evidence to determine where Kummer and Lesnic had traveled before the shooting, as well as the nature of their relationship, according to court documents. 

Kummer had worked as a driver for Copeland Trucking in Des Moines since 2010, the Newton Daily News previously reported.

Copeland manager Charlie Hoag told the newspaper that in the seven years he knew Kummer, his friend never mentioned anyone named Lesnic.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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