Facebook Twitter

MADE ERRORS IN WOOD CASE, LAWYER SAYS

SHARE MADE ERRORS IN WOOD CASE, LAWYER SAYS

Bannock County Public Defender Monte Whittier admitted making mistakes in representing condemned murderer James Edward Wood but denied they resulted from personal or religious conflicts.

Whittier said Thursday that he believed there was little chance he could help Wood avoid the death penalty for last year's abduction, murder and mutilation of 11-year-old Pocatello newspaper carrier Jeralee Underwood."I don't know if I'd use the word hopeless, but I figured the cause was absolutely against me," he testified on the third day of a hearing before 6th District Judge Lynn Winmill on Wood's bid to overturn his guilty plea and death sentence.

The hearing continued Friday at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution.

Whittier on Thursday denied trying to convince Wood that as a fellow Mormon he must be executed in restitution for taking Jeralee's life or that church or other relationships between the Underwood family and members of his law firm influenced his handling of the case.

Wood's appellate lawyers contend Whittier provided ineffective legal counsel while Wood waived a preliminary hearing and pleaded guilty without any assurance against a death sentence. They cite Whittier's failure even to file a motion to suppress Wood's confession to Jeralee's slaying or other evidence.

The girl was abducted June 29, 1993. Her remains were found in the Snake River in Idaho Falls a week later after Wood was arrested and confessed.

Whittier, who has never taken a murder case to trial, said he advised Wood it was likely he would be sentenced to death but that his best chance of avoiding it would be pleading guilty. Still, he said he urged Wood to go to trial to preserve a record for appeal.

He also acknowledged he should not have allowed a psychiatrist he hired to examine Wood to testify at a December 1993 sentencing hearing after learning the psychiatrist had concluded Wood posed a risk of killing again.

However, Whittier defended his decision to waive Wood's preliminary hearing. He said Wood did not want evidence about how he sexually violated and dismembered Jeralee's body a week after the murder to come out in court. And even though he knew it probably would come out anyway at Wood's sentencing, Whittier told Wood he would "fight tooth and nail" against it.

And while Wood was concerned that he did not undergo a psychiatric evaluation before pleading guilty, Whittier said, "He wanted to plead guilty more than he wanted the evaluation."

Whittier also admitted lying to Wood by leading him to believe he had a valid contract that would give Wood's son and Jeralee's family each 25 percent of any revenue from a book or movie deal based on his story.

But he said that and a news conference he called with radio and television reporters were intended to get Wood to stop making statements to the media and investigators that were crucial to the prosecution's case.

"Mr. Wood kept saying, `I have a story to tell. I have a story to tell.' I kept telling him, `That ain't the way to do it,"' Whittier said.

"He was doing it anyway and I was trying to control it," he said. "It didn't work."

Whittier said Wood often talked to him about religion, once asking about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints beliefs on forgiveness of sin. But Whittier denied telling Wood he would have to give up his own life to be forgiven for murdering Jeralee.

Wood's attorneys have tried to prove that Whittier and other Mormons tried to convince Wood that he must make "blood atonement" for the slaying. They contend Whittier let loyalty to his church, which excommunicated Wood, outweigh duty to his client.