A day after defendant James E. Cooke Jr. told the judge he was "evil" and "going to hell," the judge stripped Cooke of his right to act as his own attorney
at his retrial on rape and murder charges.
Cooke's standby counsel, Anthony Figliola and Peter Veith -- whom Cooke dismissed in November -- then resumed their jobs as defense attorneys.
Figliola immediately asked Superior Court Judge Charles H. Toliver IV for a mistrial but Toliver denied the request, saying it would reward Cooke for his misbehavior.
Throughout two weeks of jury selection and the first three days of the trial, Toliver repeatedly warned Cooke that if he were to continue to represent himself, he needed to be civil and follow the rules of evidence and the court's instructions. Cooke, however, ignored those warnings, saying he was conducting his defense "my own way."
Toliver's patience came to an end Friday morning.
Cooke was cross-examining Assistant Medical Examiner Jennie Vershvovsky, who conducted the autopsy on Bonistall. Despite instructions otherwise, Cooke continued to preface his questions with long, rambling statements, which often appeared to be an attempt to give testimony or make arguments to the jury. Questioning Vershvovsky about consensual sex versus rape, Cooke began, "Me, dealing with a lot of females ... "
Toliver cut him off.
"You are not an expert," Toliver reminded him. Cooke started to argue, saying "This is a homicide case, not a rape case. ... I'm going to tell the jury ... "
"You are not going to tell the jury anything," Toliver said.
He ordered the jury from the courtroom, and appeared ready to give Cooke yet another warning, explaining it was "time for cross examination, not time for argument."
Cooke, however, continued the confrontation. "I'm telling the truth and you know it," he said, then starting listing perceived slights and grievances.
Toliver then calmly said, "We need to stop the proceedings at this point. ... I'd like to let you continue to represent yourself but if you continue to wish not to abide by the rules of the court, I'll have no choice. This is the last time I'll ask you."
"I just wish to tell the truth," Cooke said. "I'm following the rules ... you are forcing me. You are threatening me. You see I do a good job. ... My way is not the court way. I'm not a part of this party. I'm not a Democrat or a Republican."
Toliver asked Cooke what partisan politics had to do with the trial.
"You figure it out," Cooke answered.
Before he left the courtroom Friday, Cooke told Figliola and Veith not to change course in his defense or call any witnesses he had not approved.
"I don't need no mitigation," he said. "No doctors. Just move on with it."
Toliver told Cooke he may remain in the courtroom for the trial, but Cooke said he would not be coming back.
"Ban me from the courtroom. Don't come get me [from prison] on Thursday. I'm not a part of this corrupt proceeding,"
Figliola told Toliver that he and Veith would follow Cooke's wishes to put on a defense maintaining his innocence. However, he said that from this point on, he considered all their decisions would be tactical. Cooke's input would be required only as to whether he intends to return to the courtroom, or to testify.
At the close, Wood, the prosecutor, wished Toliver a good weekend.
"Too late for that," Toliver responded. "You don't have to die to go to hell."