BY JOE GYAN JR.
Advocate staff writer
August 16, 2012
Condemned killer Anthony Bell, who represented himself during the guilt phase of his 2008 trial in Baton Rouge, told a judge Wednesday he wants to be represented by lawyers as he continues to appeal his first-degree murder convictions and death sentences for the slaying of his wife and four in-laws.
Bell, who recently filed a petition for post-conviction relief on his own behalf, answered “Yes sir” when state District Judge Todd Hernandez asked the 31-year-old Bell if he now wants counsel to represent him.
The judge gave Gary Clements, director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, until May 15 to supplement Bell’s petition, which is only a shell petition that states no reasons for seeking post-conviction relief.
Clements declined afterward to discuss what issues he will raise in the supplemental petition.
“There’s an excellent reason for that — I don’t know,” he said.
Clements said he will have a better idea after he reviews the entire court record of the case and speaks more thoroughly with Bell.
But as far as Bell’s legal representation, Clements added, “There’s no issue. There’s no dispute.”
Bell, of Baton Rouge, was found guilty April 11, 2008, of five counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. Six days later, the same East Baton Rouge Parish jury recommended he die by lethal injection. In September 2008, Hernandez formally handed Bell five death sentences and a 50-year prison term on the attempted-murder conviction.
Bell was accused of fatally shooting four of his in-laws inside the Ministry of Jesus Christ Church on May 21, 2006, and then kidnapping his wife, Erica Bell, from the Dallas Drive church and shooting and killing her in the parking lot of a nearby apartment complex.
He fired his court-appointed attorneys in February 2008 and represented himself in the guilt phase of his trial but asked Hernandez to reinstate the lawyers during the penalty phase. The judge, who granted that request, also allowed the lawyers to act as Bell’s standby counsel during the guilt phase.
Attorneys for Bell claimed in his previous appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court that the 2008 trial was a “mockery of justice” because Hernandez allowed Bell to represent himself. East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors countered that the judge took “painstaking measures” to ensure Bell’s waiver of counsel was made “knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily.”
The high court ultimately affirmed Bell’s convictions and sentences.
Bell’s appeals are now in the post-conviction relief stage, where defense attorneys typically seek to raise broad, constitutional issues to demonstrate that the trial was unfair. The constitutional issues often deal with alleged improper actions of attorneys or flawed decisions by judges.