Telugu bidda Raghunandan Yandamuri’s recent bombshell decision to fire his state-appointed attorney and argue his murder and kidnapping case himself has left the court authorities stumped in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
The trial of Raghunandan Yandamuri, who is charged with the murders of 61-year-old Satyavathi Venna and her 10-month-old granddaughter Saanvi Venna and a litany of other charges, is scheduled to start next year.
All the parties in the case – the judge, defense attorneys and the prosecution team – are scrambling to make sense of Yandamuri’s spate of court filings in recent weeks in which the young man declared his intention to represent himself and withdrew some key motions previously filed by his public defender attorney Stephen Heckman.
Yandamuri indicated in an interview with an Indian TV channel recently that he was unhappy with the “pessimistic” attitude of his attorney Heckman.
Montgomery County prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty for Raghunandan Yandamuri, a native of the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, must also be scratching their heads over the defendant’s bizarre moves.
The prosecution team led by First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R.Steele has prepared and filed motions in the high-profile twin murder case. They were hoping for a smooth trial in a case where public sentiment is overwhelmingly against Yandamuri, an Indian national.
Raghu Yandamuri’s recent court filings and his decision to represent himself has propelled the case into uncharted waters.
Although Raghunandan Yandamuri previously acknowledged his role in the killings in a famous video confession where he claimed the deaths were accidental, he’s now professing his innocence and blames the killing on two other people. Yandamuri recently lashed out at the police for not investigating the role of the two men.
At a pre-trial hearing Tuesday in the Montgomery County court house, Judge Steven T. O’Neill, who is presiding over the case, described Yandamuri’s recent move to fire his attorney and defend himself as “a very, very serious issue.”
Judge O’Neill declined to rule on Yandamuri’s motion to fire his attorney stating that he wanted the defense team to review it and decide how they wish to proceed.
The judge is said to have asked Yandamuri’s attorneys today to consider if they can still represent him in good faith given his charges against them.
“We need time to review that and then decide from there, after talking to Mr. Yandamuri, how we’re proceeding. But right now, we’re still in the case, we’re still his counsel until Judge O’Neill orders otherwise,” Yandamuri’s public defender attorney Heckman said as per media reports.
In our view, Judge O’Neill’s decision not to issue a ruling today on Yandamuri’s motion to represent himself seems aimed at buying time while the judge, prosecution and the defense legal team figure out how to respond to the Telugu native’s moves.
Ultimately, we suppose the judge will have no choice but to agree if Raghunandan Yandamuri insists on defending himself.
Judge O’Neill advised Yandamuri that it would not be in his interest to communicate directly with court officials, prosecutors and the media without consulting his attorneys.
Media reports say Yandamuri was present during the court hearing today but chose not to address the judge.
In a comment that seems designed to rebut Yandamuri’s recent television interview where he claimed to be unhappy with his legal representation, Heckman said: “We have filed motions and we continue to stand by those motions, which we discussed with him before filing them, so we’re satisfied we’re doing everything we can on his behalf.”
Apparently, the interview with an Indian television channel came as a surprise to Yandamuri’s attorneys Heckman and mitigation attorney Henry Hilles III.
“It’s never helpful for the client to give interviews with the media or anything else like that in a pending case….Had no idea nor would I have ever sanctioned it nor would Mr. Hilles. We were surprised,” media reports quote Heckman as saying.
Raghunandan Yandamuri said in the television interview that he was doing legal research in the prison library in preparation for arguing the case himself.
The Telugu bidda has been lodged in the Montgomery County jail in Eagleville, Pennsylvania since his arrest on October 26, 2012.