Guimond made his ruling at the urging of Marion County prosecutor Stephen E. Dingle, who accused Steele and Jade of stalling and wasting taxpayer money. Steele called Dingle's accusations outrageous, saying she and Jade had been working long hours on an exceedingly complex case and in the face of shifting legal standards. She submitted an affidavit from Langley saying that he wants to keep his lawyers. "We're doing a good job," Steele said. Experts said Langley, Steele and Jade had little recourse. "It is rather unusual for a judge to fire some attorneys a month before trial, especially in a death penalty case," said Peter Gartlan, an attorney in the state Office of Public Defense Services. "However, the court does have that authority. The court appoints attorneys, and the court can remove attorneys."
The Langley case dates back more than 15 years. In 1988, Langley was charged with killing two acquaintances in separate incidents. Anne Louise Gray's body was found buried in a Salem back yard. Larry Richard Rockenbrant's body was found underneath a cactus garden on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital, where Langley lived while he took part in a program for mentally and emotionally disabled prison inmates. Langley's therapist had approved his request to plant the garden as a way to relax.
In separate trials in 1989, Langley was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death. Both sentences were overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court. The court overturned the sentence in the Gray case because the jury was not allowed to hear mitigating evidence. The court reversed the conviction and sentence in the Rockenbrant case because evidence from the Gray murder should not have been admitted.
In the retrial of the Rockenbrant murder, Langley was sentenced to life in prison with a 30-year minimum. In the Gray case, he was again sentenced in 1994 to death. The Oregon Supreme Court again overturned the death sentence in December 2000, saying that the judge should have allowed the jury to consider life without parole as a sentencing option.
Steele, co-counsel in the Gray and Rockenbrant retrials, was re-appointed in February 2001. Marc P. Friedman was appointed co-counsel, but he withdrew in 2002. Jade was appointed earlier this year. Steele said several outstanding legal matters have delayed the case, which already has been reset for trial twice. There are questions about the jury pool makeup, the admissibility of Langley's medical records and the validity of search warrants. She also said the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year raised the bar for the level of assistance attorneys must provide in capital cases. For all these reasons, she filed a motion last week asking Guimond to delay the case at least a year. Dingle reluctantly agreed.
"It is clear from the combined 53 pages of sworn statements that neither Ms. Steele nor Ms. Jade, whether by design or incompetence, is capable of providing constitutionally adequate representation to the defendant by Oct. 6, 2003," Dingle wrote to the judge, responding to Steele and Jade's motion to delay the trial.
He didn't stop there.
"It has come to a point where wisdom and responsibility mandate that a judge not keep throwing good money after bad. Simply put, this 'defense team' is a bad investment," Dingle wrote. "Based on this 'defense team's' past behavior, we can expect stalling tactics, wasted time, unkept promises, misrepresentations and, essentially, anything to keep the case from proceeding to trial."
Steele denied stalling and accused Dingle and the Oregon Department of Justice of delaying the case with obstructionist tactics. She plans to provide Guimond information refuting Dingle's charges. "We're hoping that he reconsiders and reappoints us," she said.
Steele has been a lawyer in Oregon since 1987 and handled a number of murder cases. She drew considerable notoriety a decade ago when she married Frank Gable while he was on trial for aggravated murder of Michael Franke, then-director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. Gable was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Steele divorced him in 1997.*
THIS is exactly what's wrong with the legal system. This guy has BEEN CONVICTED of MURDER...TWICE. Why are we still waiting around to see what's what? He did it! It's been shown! Period. Take the bastard out back and shoot him and let's move on.
*All but last paragraph quoted from The Oregonian