The jury was selected and testimony began Tuesday in Liberty County Superior Court in the trial of a man accused of raping a Sunbury woman. The case, which has been likened to a crime novel, was once described as the trial of the century by attorneys. This trial and others that may follow promise several twists and turns.
The first twist came when the suspect, John E. Schneider, fired his attorney, Stepehn Yekel, and told the court he was going to represent himself as the lead defense attorney. Earlier Schneider fired his public defenders, Ronald Poirot and William Cox, due to what he said were conspiracies to aid the prosecution. Conflict Public Defender Yekel was assigned to Schneider’s case but Schneider had motioned the court earlier this year and had Yekel relieved from his position. Schneider was granted the right to act as his own counsel, but later asked Yekel be reinstated. In court on Monday he once again asked the court to relieve Yekel from his position and asked Liberty County Superior Court Judge Paul Rose to let him act as his own defense attorney. The motion was granted.
"He attempted to tell me how I would be found guilty if I didn't take a plea bargain," Schneider said to Rose as he explained why he chose to represent himself. "When I attempted to direct my concern to Mr. Yekel, he continued to press me for a plea. To this very day I have not sat down with this man to discuss my defense and I can't possibly consider taking a plea your honor until I see a competent defense has been established. He's failed to do this."
The judge gave Schneider the option of reinstating Yekel as the lead attorney for his defense saying he had until before start of the trial to change his mind and told Schneider he was fool headed should he try and defend himself with only a ninth grade education and no law school background. Apparently Schneider's heeded the judge’s warning as he decided to let Yekel run his defense before the jury was selected and the trial started.
The first of possible multiple trials will center on an incident that reportedly occurred in February 2007, where Schneider allegedly raped and sodomized a Sunbury woman nearly 20 years his senior. He faces charges of rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, terroristic threats, two counts of theft by taking and kidnapping in a case where Schneider maintains the woman enticed him into a relationship that lasted several months until he threatened to break it off.
According to Schneider, he was living on his own in a sailboat he purchased named the Mud-Lark in the area of Sunbury. He was working on various shrimp boats and occasionally helped out at Shrimp Docks at the time of the incident.
Schneider claims the woman sent her son to visit with him and they became drinking buddies.
He contends the woman, who lived just down the road from Schneider's boat, made the first move and, after a while, the folks within the community viewed the two as a couple.
Schneider insists it was the woman that bought him lavish gifts and seduced him to the point of calling him "her private man for hire."
He said he opted to end the relationship after finding "a hidden collection of racy videos" and the woman demanded certain "favors" from him.
However, he said, they had one last fling before parting ways.
Schneider said the next day he was arrested for rape and aggravated sexual battery and taken to jail.
Schneider believes the lead detective in the case coerced the woman into pressing charges calling detective Jeff Hein a liar and has said he was threatened by Hein.
"This man right here has forged documents," Schneider said as he pointed toward detective Hein at the motions hearing. "He has pressured people. I can show evidence in support of the fact they have committed perjury."
You have that evidence," the judge asked.
"I do," Schneider said. "I've been held in jail for nearly two years called a rapist and a kidnapper by scandulous liars."
Schneider could serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole if found guilty.
State Attorney John Hope said more trials against Schneider are pending as he accumulated charges of stalking while in Liberty Regional Jail.
Accoring to public records on April 28, he was indicted for aggravated stalking for continuing to try to communicate with the woman through letters and phone calls.
On May 6, Schneider was found in possession of an unlawful weapon when he was found to have a handmade, metal shank inside the jail.
The next day he was indicted on two counts of interference with government property when he trashed his jail cell and damaged the inside roof of the transport van used to take him to court.
In a forensic psychiatrist evaluation ordered earlier by the court they found that, while he tended to have fits of rage and was abused and abused drugs for a good part of his life, Schneider knew the difference between right and wrong and was mentally competent to stand trial. But they cautioned he would probably act out in court and possibly have bouts of rage.
"I'm going to make sure you get a fair trail," the judge said. "But I will tell you I will not let you disrepect this court and disrupt procedures. We will put you in your shckles and take you out of this court room."
It won't happen again your honor," Schneider promised.