From a jail cell, Anoka County murder suspect prepares defense

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2011 - 8:18 PM

Mo Hicks, accused of killing his girlfriend, received an Anoka County judge's OK to represent himself.

Before any court hearing, lawyers on both sides typically meet with the judge in private chambers for an off-the-record discussion on case issues.

Mo Hicks wasn't afforded the same opportunity.

Hicks is the defendant in a murder case, and he's also representing himself at trial. It's been at least two decades since a murder suspect in Minnesota sought and received a judge's approval to serve as his or her own attorney.

Thursday's short hearing in Anoka County foreshadowed the many challenges Hicks' decision created.

Dressed in a gray and green jail jumpsuit and bound at the feet by shackles, Hicks, 35, requested the chamber meeting with District Judge James Cunningham Jr. The judge denied the request because Hicks is representing himself, and the judge said he wanted any such conversations to be held in the courtroom.

In an unusual move, the judge then cleared the room to hold what would be the equivalent of a chambers discussion. He reopened it about 15 minutes later and briefly summarized the conversation.

Girlfriend was killed in 2007

Before that, Cunningham appointed an attorney to be used at Hicks' discretion. The judge voiced concerns about trial delays, fairness issues and the complexity of the case. Hicks is accused of killing his girlfriend, Judy Rush, in 2007 and dumping her body in a park in Brooklyn Park. Skeletal remains were found this past spring and DNA testing determined that they were those of the 56-year-old Rush.

Defendants have the constitutional right to defend themselves. The judge only has to determine whether the defendant "willingly and intelligently" refused counsel and understands the consequences. Hicks received permission to represent himself last month.

Last week, Hicks filed his first motion in court, seeking to dismiss the case based on lack of probable cause. He also told the judge he had just received some discovery materials from the prosecution and hadn't had a chance to review them with counsel. He asked for a two-week continuance, which Cunningham initially denied because Thursday's hearing to contest the admissibility of evidence had been delayed three other times.

Are motions still valid?

Assistant County Attorney Wade Kish, who is prosecuting the case, asked whether the jail had equipment for Hicks to listen to or watch evidence on audio or video discs. Wade also raised the issue of whether motions filed by Hicks' previous public defender still are valid.

Kish told the judge his office had some issues getting discovery evidence to Hicks and that he would agree to continue the hearing until early November. Hicks asked the judge about an issue regarding the right to a speedy trial.

Whenever Cunningham asked Hicks a question, it usually required only a "yes" or "no" answer.

While Kish rolled a container full of papers into the courtroom, Hicks was armed with a yellow legal notebook pad and a few envelopes stuffed with evidence sitting on his table. He conferred with the court-appointed attorney from time to time.

Cunningham ended the hearing with an apology to the witnesses who had showed up for the hearing, saying the case is beset by challenges.

Hicks was then patted down by a sheriff's deputy, handcuffed and led back to jail.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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