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Judge Urges Ex-Death Row Inmate To Get Lawyer

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A Connecticut judge on Tuesday urged a convicted murderer whose death sentence was overturned last month to drop a bid to represent himself in a new penalty phase.

Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander in Hartford told 32-year-old Eduardo Santiago that his case is complex, and he would be better served by a lawyer. Alexander also formally vacated Santiago’s death sentence that was overturned by the state Supreme Court, which ruled the trial judge wrongly withheld evidence from the jury.

Santiago and two other men were convicted in the fatal shooting of Joseph Niwinski, 45, in West Hartford in 2000. Police said Santiago was promised a pink-striped snowmobile with a broken clutch in exchange for the killing.

Santiago asked to represent himself several weeks ago, citing a dispute with an appellate lawyer in the public defender’s office, according to court documents. Officials in the public defender’s office said the dispute turned out to be a misunderstanding, because Santiago wrongly thought he was going to be transferred to another prison after his death sentence was overturned and was blaming his appellate lawyer for the transfer. Santiago hasn’t been transferred.

State prosecutors and Santiago’s current lawyer, public defender Michael Courtney, expect Santiago to drop his request to represent himself.

Also Tuesday, Courtney told Alexander that the public defender’s office will be hiring a private lawyer to represent Santiago for the expected new penalty phase, which hasn’t been scheduled yet. He said his office has a conflict of interest in representing Santiago because it also represented a co-defendant in the case.

Alexander continued the case to Aug. 7, and Santiago is expected to have a new lawyer by then.

Prosecutors Donna Mambrino and John Fahey are continuing to seek the death penalty in the case.

Santiago, a former Torrington resident, has denied allegations that he agreed to kill Niwinski in exchange for the broken snowmobile. He was sentenced to lethal injection in 2005 after a jury convicted him, despite no clear evidence that he was the one who pulled the rifle trigger.

Prosecutors said the murder-for-hire plot to kill Niwinski was hatched by Mark Pascual, who owned a Torrington shop that sold snowmobiles, boats and ATVs. Authorities say Pascual was infatuated with Niwinski’s girlfriend, believed Niwinski was abusing her and her children and wanted him dead.

Santiago and a friend, Matthew Tyrell, admitted going into Niwinski’s home the night of the murder, but both men claimed the other was the shooter.

Tyrell and Pascual both pleaded guilty and are serving life in prison.

 (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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