Twin brothers await public defender decision

Monday, August 18, 2008 | 7:50 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - The 16-year-old twin brothers charged in connection with a September 2007 home invasion will have to wait three more weeks to learn whether they are eligible for representation by a Missouri public defender.

The brothers, James T. and Jamie C. Harris, are caught up in the implementation of a new rule adopted by the state public defender office on July 30. It's designed to relieve some of the workload on the public defender's district offices, all 34 of which are currently over maximum caseload standards.

The rule states that the public defender system will not represent defendants who have retained private counsel at any point in their case, even if they can no longer afford to pay for that counsel.

The Harris brothers are two of five men charged in a north Columbia home invasion, during which a 16-year-old girl was sexually assaulted.

The brothers are asking the state for counsel following a split with their private attorney, Gregg T. Hyder, due to "irreconcilable differences."

"I'm seeking to withdraw," Hyder told Boone County Circuit Judge Jodie Asel at Monday's hearing. "They want me to withdraw."

The next hearing, scheduled for Sept. 8, will allow J. Marty Robinson, the director of the public defender system, an opportunity to recommend an exception in the Harris cases before Asel makes her decision.

"We're treating this as a pretty strict rule," Assistant Public Defender Tony Manansala told the judge during the hearing. "I'm pretty sure the director would not approve an exception."

Ultimately, it is the case judge's decision whether to allow an attorney to withdraw.

If Asel allows Hyder to withdraw as the Harrises' counsel, then it will be up to the public defender to determine whether the defendants are indigent and qualify. If the public defender's office decides that the brothers do not qualify, the defendants can appeal to Asel, who can overrule the denial and appoint a public defender.

The home invasion occurred Sept. 18, 2007, when John Gunn and his wife, Anita, went out for the evening, leaving their five children, ages 7 to 16, at home.

According to the police report of the incident, five men waited for the parents to leave before entering and ransacking the house on Citadel Drive. The oldest daughter, who was 16 at the time of the incident, was raped and sodomized.

James and Jamie Harris face charges of felonious restraint, forcible rape, forcible sodomy, first-degree burglary, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action, according to Missouri

The three other men charged in the crime have pleaded guilty to various charges.

Jarrod Alexander Lilly, 30, pleaded guilty to Class C felony sexual assault and first-degree robbery on July 7. Lilly was sentenced to seven years for the sexual assault and 20 years for the robbery charge, to be served concurrently.

On June 23, Christopher Lee Jacobs, now 18, pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree robbery and first-degree burglary. Jacobs received sentences of 15 years for the robbery and seven years for the burglary, to be served concurrently.

Also on June 23, Patrick J. Burgess, 16 at the time of the incident, pleaded guilty to felony sexual assault and first-degree robbery. Burgess received seven years for the sexual assault and 18 years for the robbery, to be served concurrently.



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