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Cops and Courts

Third attorney bows out of capital murder case

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    John Rowan appears in court for his arraignment Thursday in Lorain County Common Pleas Court.

    SCOTT MAHONEY / CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — Another attorney has declined to represent John Rowan in his capital murder case.

On Monday afternoon, defense attorney Dan Wightman said he was concerned about his ability to represent Rowan in such a short period of time after Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Chris Cook provisionally appointed him.

Rowan has refused to waive his speedy trial rights, which means the case could go to trial as soon as next month.

“I was willing to consider representing Mr. Rowan in a less-than-ordinary length of time,” Wightman said Tuesday.

“Typically, these cases take at least a year to go to trial, sometimes longer than that.”

Wightman said the reason the cases take so long is because “it’s like there’s two trials.”

“You’ve got to try the case itself, but you also have to be prepared for the sentencing trial, which is totally different from any other criminal case,” he said. “You have a separate trial for sentence should he be convicted of the death specification on the capital murder count.”

Rowan, 37, of Parma, pleaded not guilty to the 16-count indictment during his arraignment last week. He faces charges of aggravated murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, abuse of a corpse and other charges in connection to the death of Harold Litten, of North Ridgeville.

Defense attorney Kreig Brusnahan, who is state-certified and on the Supreme Court’s list as being a first-seat trial lawyer for capital offense cases, and Nick Hanek, were appointed by the court to represent Rowan in the case during the arraignment.

Brusnahan and Hanek asked to withdraw from the case, arguing they would not have adequate time to prepare. According to the court’s journal entry, Wightman would not accept the appointment of counsel for Rowan for the same reasons.

“The real difficulty is not so much the attorney getting ready for the case, going through the evidence and so on,” Wightman said. “It’s getting all your people lined up, your experts particularly.

“The bottom line is that, as an attorney, we have to provide what’s called effective assistance to counsel — not just sit there, but we have to be effective. We have to provide a defense, we have to be able to challenge evidence and we have to provide evidence, if necessary. You just can’t do that in that short amount of time.”

Rowan’s trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 10 in Cook’s courtroom.

Cook has now provisionally appointed Kenneth Lieux to represent Rowan in the case. The case is set for further pretrial and hearing on Lieux’s appointment today.

It remains to be seen whether Lieux accepts the appointment.

“I don’t know yet. I haven’t talked to (Rowan),” Lieux said. “The first step is for me to talk with him and explain the process, which I assume the other lawyers already have done. The judge has asked me to do that, and I certainly will.”

Lieux said Cook approached him about the appointment Monday, and he plans to meet with Rowan this morning, prior to the pretrial in the afternoon.

“I’m going to try to make sure he fully understands what’s at stake and that he fully understands what’s required to properly prepare a case for trial for any case, and especially for one where the state is seeking the death penalty,” Lieux said.

Contact Scott Mahoney at 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.



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