A local man's decision to represent himself at his trial for aggravated robbery and several mistakes he may have made could come back to haunt him at his sentencing hearing today.
"Pro se" defense, or the practice of representing oneself without a lawyer, is rare in Hamilton County Criminal Court. Defendant Gary Dewayne Thompson, however, did just that recently.
Among Mr. Thompson's actions at trial: demanding that a former cop sit on the jury, willingly exposing his criminal history of aggravated robbery, telling jurors he was a crack dealer and repeatedly insulting the judge and prosecutors.
"Defendants are too close to their own cases, and they end up taking things personally when they represent themselves," said attorney John McDougal, who sat at Mr. Thompson's side to answer questions during his trial but did not take an active role in his defense.
A person's criminal history, in most instances, legally can be withheld from evidence, and appearing belligerent tends to alienate jurors from a defendant's cause, lawyers say.
Mr. Thompson was found in contempt of court even before the trial started, having told Hamilton County Judge Barry Steelman three times during a pre-trial conference to "blow it out your (expletive)."
He now faces a minimum prison sentence of 12 years after being convicted of one count of aggravated robbery at his March trial, court records show.
His three prior convictions for aggravated robbery made him eligible for such a harsh sentence for the 2008 crime, in which he wielded a steak knife at a convenience store and stole $80.
But the three charges of contempt against Mr. Thompson as a result of his insults toward Judge Steelman also mean he is not eligible for parole in a state prison system where early release is the norm.
Mr. Thompson hinged his defense at trial on a supposed conspiracy orchestrated against him by a Chattanooga police detective who never investigated the case.
Prosecutors would go on to show that DNA found on the distinctive clothing worn during the robbery matched that of Mr. Thompson.
"Sometimes defendants get attached to a (defense) theory and can't let it go," ignoring more plausible defenses that an attorney could help flesh out, Mr. McDougal noted.