Defense counsel will stay on Rontarus Washington Jr. case, for now

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Rontarus Washington Jr.’s defense attorneys withdrew from the long-pending case Thursday — but within an hour or so, they were back on.

Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria at first granted motions from Washington’s longtime defense attorneys, Adam Hall and Angela Keck, to withdraw from the case Thursday.

Deputy District Attorney Dave Melton said the state’s position had not changed since the last hearing; Hall said then the defense’s position hadn’t changed, either. The issues they were referring to have only been discussed behind closed doors in the jury deliberation room.

However, McCabria called both sides to come back half an hour later, and he explained that about 30 seconds after he left the courtroom, a lightbulb went off, and he believed he had failed to “conduct a full inquiry.”

McCabria said Washington is entitled to independent counsel to help him decide whether to ask that the court leave Hall and Keck on the case. He has appointed Carol Cline to help Washington make that decision.

Keck told the judge that she and Hall are back on the case and “will represent him (Washington) fully and vigorously as we have previously.”

The next hearing is set for 2 p.m. March 30.

Before he called everyone back to court and withdrew his original decision, McCabria said appointing new defense counsel for Washington would not be as simple as picking the next name on the list.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria explains why he was withdrawing his decision shortly after he allowed Rontarus Washington Jr.’s longtime defense counsel to withdraw from the case, March 25, 2021.

Melton also raised the point of discovery — the voluminous evidence in the case — and suggested that Hall and Keck return everything they have to the DA’s office for the state to make sure Washington’s new defense attorney or attorneys have everything.

Hall said he thought that request should be addressed by Washington’s new counsel.

McCabria said the court cannot approach that issue casually and he would want to ensure there is a complete and accurate record of what the state has the obligation to provide to the defense. He said that if there are any disputes over evidence being turned over, the prosecutors would need to “be in the position to demonstrate” that they had disseminated things to the defense.

More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case


Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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