No Guarantee in WI for Suspect’s Right to Testify

     MILWAUKEE (CN) – A man convicted of murdering his girlfriend with an ice pick forfeited his right to testify by disregarding court instructions and behaving in an unruly manner, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled.
     The Tuesday ruling affirms underlying opinions by a Milwaukee circuit judge and and an intermediate appeals court.
     Eddie Anthony, the defendant in the case, admits to killing his girlfriend with an ice pick while the couple’s children hid in a closet in the next room, according to the Supreme Court opinion, which abbreviates the victim’s name as S.J.
     S.J.’s teenage daughter, who left the house during the argument, found her mother dead when she returned.
     Though S.J.’s body was riddled with 45 stab wounds, Anthony claims he acted in self-defense because S.J. was high on crack cocaine and coming at him with a knife.
     Anthony wanted to take the stand in his murder trial but faced opposition because he planned to bring up his 1966 armed-robbery conviction against court instructions.
     “Needless to say, it is unusual for a defendant on trial for first-degree intentional homicide to insist on bringing up a prior felony conviction involving a violent crime,” the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s summary of the case states.
     Anthony, who is black, nevertheless insisted that racial prejudice led to that conviction, and that the charges were related because he claimed the homicide charge was racially motivated as well.
     The juries in both cases were mostly white, and Anthony further claimed that Milwaukee, the venue of his murder trial, was “one of the most racist cities in the country.”
     Because he would not agree to leave his previous conviction out of current proceedings, the court barred him from testifying.
     With the lower appellate court agreeing that Anthony was properly barred from testifying, the Wisconsin Supreme Court likewise considered the determination “that Anthony forfeited his right by exhibiting stubborn and defiant conduct that threatened both the fairness and reliability of the criminal trial process as well as the preservation of dignity, order, and decorum in the courtroom.”
     In a 44-page opinion, the court agreed that Anthony’s testimony about his 1966 conviction would confuse the jury in an already difficult case.
     “The issue of Anthony’s purported wrongful conviction had the obvious potential to develop into a trial within a trial, thereby confusing the jury as to the issues it was required to decide, or worse, misleading the jury into thinking that it could determine Anthony’s guilt or innocence in this case based on the likelihood that he was wrongfully convicted of armed robbery in 1966,” Justice Patrick Crooks wrote for the court.
     Even if barring Anthony’s testimony was a mistake, it was “harmless” in light of the evidence stacked against him, the court added, noting S.J.’s brutal wounds, his admission to a friend that he had killed her because she cheated on him, and the testimony of three witnesses who heard Anthony threaten to kill her with an ice pick in the days leading up to the incident.
     Justice Shirley Abrahamson alone dissented. “The right to testify is meaningless if the defendant is not allowed to actually testify,” she wrote. “Testifying gives the defendant an opportunity to face his or her accusers to tell his or her story, and to attempt to persuade those who will make a decision that profoundly affects the defendant’s life and liberty.”
     Anthony was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

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