The Suffolk district attorney's office is trying to get a defense attorney thrown off an unusually contentious murder case, arguing that the lawyer has made himself a witness in the case because of the way he questioned a surviving victim.
The attempt to get Joseph Hanshe, of Sayville, removed as Shawn Lawrence's defense attorney is the latest twist in this case.
Already, the defense has accused prosecutors of damaging a video of the crime that doesn't appear to show Lawrence in it, tried to get personnel records of detectives accused of fabricating a witness statement in another case, and tried to get the judge removed from the case.
Lawrence, 42, of North Amityville, is accused of shooting James Terry to death in a North Amityville 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., also were shot.
Hodges suffered permanent brain damage. Council, who was shot in the buttocks, has told different people different versions of what he saw.
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 visited Council in jail by himself. 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 earlier this month, Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock said Council told him he said that only to get Hanshe "to leave him alone" and because he would be "taken care of" if Lawrence won a civil suit against Suffolk County. No such suit has been filed.
In a letter to state Supreme Court Justice William Condon, Kurtzrock said because he questioned Council by himself, Hanshe will be unable to challenge Council's shifting accounts without making himself a witness in the case. And if Hanshe doesn't challenge what Council said, that could be the basis of an appeal because of ineffective assistance of counsel, Kurtzrock wrote.
"I'm just trying to ensure a fair trial for the defendant," Kurtzrock said. "And to avoid a potential appellate issue."
Hanshe said he won't need to question Council about his stories, noting he got shot in the buttocks.
"He's not looking at the person who shot him," Hanshe said. "He's not a very credible person, no matter what he says." Hanshe denied offering Council anything in return for testimony.
In court Monday, Condon explained the problem to Lawrence. "You have a right to conflict-free representation," Condon said, which may not be the case if Hanshe has to curtail his questioning of Council to avoid making himself a witness.
Lawrence has forged a good relationship with Hanshe after going through five other lawyers. Condon said he did not want to interfere in that relationship, but he appointed another attorney, John Halverson, to give Lawrence independent advice on whether to keep Hanshe. If Lawrence decides to keep Hanshe, jury selection is scheduled to begin April 16.