ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Defense attorneys representing accused killer Markeith Loyd secured at least a partial victory Wednesday in a hearing on their motion to hire expert witnesses in secret and pay them undisclosed sums of tax dollars.
Loyd is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and her unborn child in December of 2016, and of killing Orlando police Lieutenant Debra Clayton before spending more than a week as a high-profile fugitive in and around Orlando.
Last week, Loyd’s attorney, Roger Weeden, filed a motion seeking to have an alternate judge appointed to rule on requests for expert witnesses and keep the details of their hiring under seal. Weeden argued having someone other than Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Frederick Lauten involved in that portion of the case would prevent bias on his part and aid in keeping key defense strategies from becoming public knowledge, thereby helping prosecutors plan their own case.
“Let me tell you where I really have some questions and that’s where you see this need for another judge,” Lauten said from the bench Wednesday as arguments on the motion commenced.
Weeden told Lauten the system he proposed had worked well in other Orange County murder cases tried by different judges. Asked whether he was adamant about having another judge involved, Weeden stopped short of making any demands.
“In a situation like this it would not be a great concern to me, honestly,” Weeden said. “But I’ve also found that solution to be rather simple.”
Weeden argued that, having been appointed for the indigent Loyd as a private attorney paid using public funds, he was at a disadvantage to the Public Defender’s office. Lawyers there are able to hire expert witnesses without court approval, thereby avoiding the creation of public records outlining portions of their case planning.
“You also have my attention as far as ‘why should I tell [State Attorney Brad] King which experts I’m using,’ so that he could turn around and use them too if he wanted?” Lauten said.
King argued conducting the witness-hiring process in private and cutting prosecutors out of the loop might open the door to Weeden—or any other defense attorney—having the ability to shop around for witnesses, hiring them continually until finding one willing to give favorable testimony.
“There are certain defense attorneys who do exactly what you’re talking about and go through three, four or five experts looking for a favorable report,” King said.
Ultimately, Lauten’s ruling allowed for the defense to file requests for hiring witnesses under seal and have them ruled on privately. But Lauten refused to appoint a second judge, thereby keeping his own control over the process.
The hiring—and payment—decisions are subject to a sealed review by Florida’s Justice Administrative Commission. But Lauten ruled the individual decisions and their details would be unsealed upon the testimony of any given witness, or at the conclusion of the trial for witnesses not called to testify.
Jury selection for Loyd’s first trial—covering only the murder of Dixon—is scheduled to begin Sept. 11.
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