Judge denies murder suspect's request for self-representation

Jimmy LaRoue
Contact Reporterjlarouejr@vagazette.com

A James City County man charged with first-degree murder in the death of his mother will not be allowed to represent himself during a March trial.

Michael Alan Webb, 35, was in Williamsburg-James City County Court Wednesday for an arraignment hearing where he pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of his mother, Edna Webb.

Edna Webb was found dead in her Brookside Haven townhome May 17, 2017, after suffering blunt force trauma, according to James City County Police.

Webb was initially charged with second-degree murder; those charges have been upgraded to first-degree murder.

Michael Alan Webb told Judge Michael McGinty at the hearing he wished to represent himself and have standby counsel in the courtroom with him. He was represented by J. Terry Osborne on Wednesday.

“He wishes to play a more active role (in his defense),” Osborne said in court. “He wants to be more a part of the trial process.”

Webb said in court he wants to represent himself because he feels he is best qualified for the task, but he still wanted to have a lawyer beside him to assist.

“So if I had an objection … I wouldn’t be looked at as making a scene in court to speak out of turn — or be impolite or disrespectful,” Webb said.

McGinty denied Webb’s request, saying he does not think Webb fully understands what it means to waive his right to an attorney.

“I don’t think that would be an intelligent decision at this point,” McGinty said.

While a defendant has a constitutional right to represent himself in legal proceedings, that right is not absolute and a judge can deny it if he feels the defendant is not adequately able to represent himself.

McGinty spent the bulk of the 90 minute hearing in the courtroom explaining court procedure and asked Webb if he understood how a trial would work if he represented himself.

“I’m more qualified to address certain issues in my case (than my attorney),” Webb said. “I’m going to have more of an interest in my case than anyone else could. I feel nobody else could represent me better than me. … I live and breathe my case.”

McGinty explained to Webb that if Osborne was his standby attorney, that she could not sit at the table next to him, be able to question witnesses, provide opening and closing statements or raise objections during trial.

McGinty told Webb that if he was found guilty at trial, Webb would not be able to use his self-representation as grounds for an appeal.

“I don’t waive the right to my lawyer,” Webb said. “But I want to represent myself.”

After conferring with Osborne, Webb said “I feel like I need to sign the paper under duress.”

“If I do not sign it, I would have my lawyer as my sole representative and I wouldn’t have any say,” Webb said.

Osborne said she and Webb differed on some motions each would want to offer.

“I fear we may have some valuable time wasted,” Osborne said.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green said he does not object to Webb representing himself and having standby counsel.

“It’s my life — no offense to Ms. Osborne,” Webb said. “If she can be standby counsel, that’s fine, but I feel I should be the sole representative.”

A motions hearing has been set for 2 p.m. Feb. 22 in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court, with Osborne continuing to be Webb’s attorney of record. McGinty said he would revisit the issue of Webb representing himself at that time.

A jury trial is scheduled in circuit court for 8:30 a.m. March 27.

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at jlarouejr@vagazette.com or on Twitter @jlaroue.

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