A Suffolk judge denied a prosecutor's request Friday to throw a defense attorney off a murder case, and instead appointed "shadow counsel" who will take over the defense if the current lawyer ends up being called as a witness.
State Supreme Court Justice William Condon said he would abide by the wishes of defendant Shawn Lawrence, 42, of North Amityville, after satisfying himself that Lawrence knew and understood the risks.
Lawrence is charged with second-degree murder. He is accused of fatally shooting James Terry, 44, also of North Amityville, in a local parking lot on Jan. 12, 2010, after an argument about whether a man allergic to seafood was served a shrimp dinner. Two other men, David Hodges and Ralph Council Jr., were wounded.
Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock argued that Lawrence's attorney, Joseph Hanshe of Sayville, shouldn't be allowed to continue because he is a potential witness in the trial because of his interaction with Council.
Council, 49, who was shot in the buttocks, has told several versions of what happened the night of the shooting.
He initially told police he didn't know who shot him. But when he was arrested on unrelated charges a year later, he told detectives that Lawrence and Allen McGhee did it. McGhee pleaded guilty last year to manslaughter.
About a year ago, Hanshe, by himself, visited Council in jail. He said Council told him that Lawrence was not at the shooting and had nothing to do with it. Hanshe said Council told him he had implicated Lawrence because police and prosecutors offered him a lesser sentence for an attempted assault charge in return.
But last month, Kurtzrock said Council told him he had said that to get Hanshe "to leave him alone" and because he'd be "taken care of" if Lawrence won a lawsuit against Suffolk County.
"Mr. Hanshe put us in this position when he spoke with Ralph Council without any investigator present," Kurtzrock said. Now Hanshe will be unable to challenge Council's shifting accounts without making himself a witness in the case, the prosecutor said.
Condon, choosing to rely on Lawrence, appointed John Halverson of Patchogue to serve as a relief lawyer if Hanshe ends up on the witness stand.
Kurtzrock said that would leave a conviction vulnerable to being reversed on appeal. "I think this is something that just can't be overcome," he said in court. "I want to avoid starting the trial under this cloud."
Hanshe said afterward that Condon's decision was smart, and Kurtzrock didn't need to worry about an appeal of a conviction.
"He's assuming he's going to win this case at trial," Hanshe said. There will be no appeal if Lawrence is acquitted.
Jury selection begins April 16. Lawrence faces 40 years to life in prison if convicted.