Motions delay nail-gun trial — (The Western Nevada County Union)

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The Western Nevada County Union

By Robyn Moormeister, robynm@theunion.com

12:01 a.m. PT Aug 30, 2007

Defense asks that suspect’s jail mates not testify

The murder trial of Richard Williams, accused of killing his estranged wife with a nail gun, is postponed as the court addresses several motions – including the defense attorney’s push to exclude testimony from Williams’ jail mates, as well as a possible conflict of interest.

According to court records, defense attorney Stephen Munkelt wants to prevent prosecutors from calling former Grass Valley residents Frank Zupan and Larry Watson to the stand during the trial.

For the prosecutors, the testimony of Zupan and Watson is expected to cast doubt on Williams’ “unconsciousness” defense: He allegedly killed his wife and attempted to kill himself as a result of withdrawal from the anti-depressant drug Paxil, according to court records.

Zupan was convicted in April of killing his wife for financial gain. Watson was convicted in August 2006 of holding his wife and 16-year-old daughter hostage with a gun and threatening to kill them. Both are serving prison sentences. Williams had contact with Zupan and Watson in the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility in Nevada City as they awaited their trials, according to court records.

According to Munkelt, the men’s testimony presents a conflict of interest because he represented both of them in early phases of their cases, Munkelt said. He argues state law disqualifies him from cross-examining them because of his “professional duty of loyalty” to his former clients.

Due to the conflict of interest, the court could disqualify Munkelt from representing Williams, although Deputy DA Francis has not filed a motion for Judge Robert Tamietti to do so.

Disqualification from representing his client is “undesirable,” Munkelt wrote in his motion.

Another response to the conflict of interest, Munkelt wrote, is for the court to appoint another defense attorney strictly for the purposes of cross-examining Zupan and Watson.

Munkelt also is accusing Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Francis of misconduct. He alleges Francis named the jail-house witnesses in order to disqualify him from representing Williams. Because he is Williams’ attorney of choice, he writes, that is misconduct.

Second motion to keep motions private

In a another motion, Munkelt asks that Tamietti exclude all pretrial motions from the case’s public court file.

The trial’s anticipated start date of Sept. 5 has been postponed indefinitely while Nevada County Superior Court Judge Robert Tamietti reviews the motions.

Instead, Tamietti is scheduled to address the defense motions, as well as a prosecution motion (see related story), at 9 a.m., Sept. 5. A new trial date has not yet been set, according to court records.

To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail robynm@theunion.com or call 477-4236.