Victors can represent themselves in court

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 19, 2010



EDGARD – Citing “ineffective defense attorneys who disagree with their defense strategy, Errol Victor Sr. and his wife, Tonya Victor, were granted the right to represent themselves when they go on trial for second-degree murder in the death of their 8-year-old son.

After a series of questions and a review of rights, 40th Judicial District Court Judge Mary Hotard Becnel ruled in court Monday the couple will be allowed to use their right to self-representation during future court appearances as well as the impending trial. The Victors are accused of murder in the death of M.L. Lloyd III, Tonya Victor’s son and Errol Victor’s stepson.

Although she approved the Victors’ request Monday, Becnel warned the couple of the difficulty and dangers that come with self-representation.

“It is against your best interest to represent yourselves in this matter, which is a very serious matter,” Becnel said. “It puts you at a tremendous disadvantage, and I strongly discourage it. Self-defense is almost always unwise.”

Becnel said the Victors would not be subject to any special treatment from the court and would also not be able to ask the court for help or legal advice during appearances. She said the couple also runs the risk of incriminating themselves any time they speak in court.

“The court cannot help try your case,” Becnel said. “You would be alone.”

Errol and Tonya Victor both said Monday they have been in conflict with the St. John Parish public defenders assigned to the case. The Victors claim their attorneys “totally” ignore them and disagree with their defense strategy.

“We have no control over our defense,” Errol Victor said. “We don’t want our attorneys to dictate to us. I know my own life. I know what is going on.”

The Victors have gone through numerous attorney changes since being arrested and charged in Lloyd’s death more than two years ago. St. John Public Defense Attorneys Edward Greenlee and Tommy Accosta were appointed to the case earlier this year following the most recent change. Despite objections from Errol Victor, Becnel ruled Greenlee and Accosta would remain on the case to act as advisors.

Neither Errol Victor, who told the court Monday he was an entrepreneur and developer, nor Tonya Victor, who claimed she had worked as an executive assistant in addition to other jobs, have any prior legal experience. Errol Victor did say, however, that both he and his wife had seen a lot since being put into the court system. He said they have also both been studying legal matters, such as pretrial procedures and jury selection.

“We’ve had over 80 court proceedings in over two years, which is unprecedented,” Errol Victor said. “We’ve never practiced law, but we understand it.”

Becnel explained that a second-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence. She told the Victors that self-representation would not be grounds for an appeal.

Becnel said the right to self-representation could also be taken away if the Victors fail to conduct themselves in an orderly manner. Errol Victor had already been forcibly removed from the courtroom in August after refusing to enter a plea during his arraignment.

Becnel also said self-representation could cause further delays in court proceedings due to a lack of knowledge of the legal system.

She said the Victors have filed several motions she could not understand because a lawyer did not file them.

Errol Victor claimed that the public defenders had hindered his efforts to properly file motions, which were usually hand-written. He said without the hindrance the motions would be done in a more professional manner.

Julie Cullen, who is prosecuting the case for the attorney general’s office, said her main concern with the ruling deals with the appointment of the attorneys as advisors, saying it could give them grounds for appeal down the line. She also feared that the Victors would continue to hire and fire attorneys as they had been doing in the past.

“My only request is that it be made very clear that this case will move forward,” she said.

Becnel said those matters would be addressed as they came up.

The Victors are due back in court on Nov. 4 in LaPlace.