Alleged “Highway Killer” Changes Lawyers

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(Batesville, MS) James Willie was a no-show in Panola Circuit Court Wednesday.

He was due for arraignment in the highway killer case which left 74-year-old Thomas Schlender of Nebraska dead along interstate 55 last year.

His Attorney filed a motion to hand the case over to a new attorney, after the District Attorney announced he would seek the death penalty in the case.

”That’s standard in death penalty cases when you’re involving public defenders. I don’t see it causing any major delays in this case," said Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale.

That’s good news to Schlender’s family who have been keeping close tabs on the developments in Willie’s criminal case.

Legal experts called the change in representation an important tactical move.

A capital conviction almost always brings an appeal based on “ineffective counsel.”

Having the State’s public defender take over with all their resources helps cut down on those appeals.

The recently created office of State Public Defender now, routinely handles all death penalty cases in Mississippi.

”I am one person. I have no investigator. I have no paralegal. I have no mitigation specialist and I think the office of State Public Defender has those resources,” said David Walker, who has tried and even won death penalty cases, but decided to step aside to insure the best representation for Willie.

Prosecutors say the case remains on track.

”Once he is mentally evaluated, we have to have a mental evaluation, and once the pretrial motions are handled, I would say, somewhere around the Summer."

And it’s a case sure to draw lots of attention.