Jury set for trial of man accused of dismembering stripper

FILE - In a Oct. 15, 2014 file photo, Terry Speaks, center, a suspect in the 2012 stabbing and dismemberment of a Bourbon Street strip club dancer, arrives under heavy police guard at Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner, La. Trial is set to open Monday, June 15, 2015, for Speaks, accused of killing a New Orleans' French Quarter stripper in 2012, dismembering her and dumping body parts of the woman into the Gulf of Mexico. (Chris Granger/NOLA.com The Times-Picayune via AP, File) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; USA TODAY OUT; THE BATON ROUGE ADVOCATE OUT

GRETNA, La. (AP) — Acting as his own attorney Monday, a man accused of killing and dismembering a French Quarter stripper helped choose jurors who will decide his case.

“I want to thank you for being here, taking time out of your life,” Terry Speaks told the first group of jurors he questioned. “I know a lot of you would like to be doing other things — me, too.”

Earlier Monday, Judge Stephen Grefer agreed to let Speaks represent himself after making sure Speaks realized that doing so is generally unwise and can be damaging.

“You understand that … I do not think this is a good idea,” Grefer told him.

Speaks, who carried a foot-high stack of files into court, said he graduated high school with grades of “99.9,” did well in standardized tests, had worked as a manager and was “a little” familiar with court rules.

The judge asked, “Do you understand that whatever the outcome, you will not be able to claim inadequate representation?” Speaks said yes.

Grefer said he rejected Speaks’ contention that public defender John Benz and a second appointed lawyer were unprepared. But the judge ultimately said he would grant Speaks’ motion to defend himself. He appointed the two attorneys as Speaks’ assistants so they could counsel him and resume his defense if he changes his mind.

After Speaks and prosecutors questioned 42 potential jurors, nine women and five men were sworn in. Two men are alternates.

Testimony will begin after opening arguments Tuesday, Grefer said.

Speaks and his former girlfriend, Margaret Sanchez, have both pleaded not guilty to charges including second-degree murder of Jaren Lockhart, 22. Sanchez’s trial has not been scheduled.

They are accused of dumping Lockhart, who worked at a Bourbon Street club and lived with her boyfriend in a motel, into the Gulf of Mexico after dismembering her.

The judge put off deciding another defense motion. Benz wants jurors to learn the criminal history of two prosecution witnesses, both jailhouse informants set to testify against Speaks. But, as Speaks’ adviser, he agreed that the question could wait until the witnesses are called.

Conviction on the second-degree murder charge would mean a mandatory life sentence. Speaks and Sanchez also are charged with obstructing justice by dismembering Lockhart’s body and with conspiring to do so.

Lockhart’s torso washed ashore on a beach in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, days after her boyfriend reported her missing. There was a stab wound in the chest; tattoos and body piercings helped identify her.

Surveillance video showed Speaks and Sanchez leaving Temptations Gentlemens Club with Lockhart on June 6, 2012, the night before she was reported missing.

But a defense pretrial motion said FBI agents and local investigators had uncovered no evidence to show Lockhart was ever in Speaks’ apartment or in Sanchez’s car.

Speaks asked the first group of jurors if they would convict a child who had been told not to eat the last cookie in the cookie jar if all they knew was that the cookie was missing. None raised a hand in the affirmative.

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Block took the hypothetical example further with the next group: What if there was a trail of crumbs leading to the child’s room and more crumbs around his mouth?

When Speaks questioned that group, he asked, “What if Mother brings in the FBI and they go over and don’t find fingerprints and don’t find anything linking the young man? They don’t have anything.”

Prosecutors have said they linked Speaks and Sanchez to Lockhart through other testimony, surveillance video and license plate photos, along with an email Speaks wrote to Sanchez while in federal prison, where she was serving time for an unrelated crime after his arrest.

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