The U.S. Bill of Rights guarantees the right to legal counsel in trials. However, many defendants choose to waive their right to a lawyer and instead, act as their own criminal defense attorney. This is known as pro se litigation. Here, we present the top 5 criminals who opted to represent themselves in court… And lost.
5. John Allen Muhammed
John Allen Muhammed, also known as the D.C. Sniper, was charged in connection with the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks which killed at least ten people. Muhammed won the right to defend himself in court, but Maryland Judge James L. Ryan, who presided over the case, grew tired of telling Muhammed how to proceed in trial and appointed three defense attorneys as legal counsel. The attorneys were told they could advise Muhammed, but only if he asked them directly for advice. Muhammed was ultimately convicted and was executed by lethal injection on November 10, 2009.
4. Lynette Fromme
Lynette Fromme was a member of the Manson Family was charged with the 1975 attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford. Fromme was apprehended on September 5, 1975 when she dressed in red robes and pointed a semi-automatic pistol at the President. To show her devotion to Charles Manson, Fromme represented herself at trial, but did not present testimony related to the case. Instead, she lectured the court about environmental issues. Fromme was sentenced to life in prison, but was released in 2009 after serving 34 years.
3. Carmine Persico
Carmine John Persico, Jr. was the infamous boss of the Colombo crime family. In 1984, Persico and the entire Colombo family were indicted on multiple racketeering charges. Persico disappeared and was placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted List and was arrested in 1985. When the trials began, Persico opted to represent himself before the court, stating that his criminal history and convictions afforded him the necessary expertise to act as his own counsel. Persico was convicted of racketeering in 1986 and sentenced to 39 years, then was again convicted and sentenced to 100 years in 1987 following the Mafia Commission trial. Persico continues to act as the boss of the Colombo crime family while serving a life sentence in federal prison.
2. H.H. Holmes
Herman Webster Mudgett, or Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, is considered America’s first serial killer and is said to have snatched many of his victims from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Holmes was the first murder suspect in U.S. history to invoke the right to self-representation. When the trial began to spin out of Holmes’ control, he requested to appoint two defense attorneys. He was convicted of murder and while serving time in prison, police launched another investigation following evidence recovered from his mansion. After receiving $7,500 from Hearst Newspapers, Holmes ultimately confessed to 30 murders in Chicago, Toronto, and Indianapolis. He was hanged in Philadelphia in 1896.
1. Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy was one of the most infamous and prolific serial killers in U.S. History. He was said to be not only a murderer, but a kidnapper, rapist, and necrophiliac who preyed on young women during the 1970s. The former law student waived his right to a jury in his first trial, and then acted as his own attorney in the trials that followed. Bundy was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death, later confessing to 30 murders while on death row. Ted Bundy was executed by electric chair in 1989; he remains the prime suspect in many unsolved murder cases.
Pro-se litigation is rarely successful in criminal cases. Very few citizens have the legal knowledge necessary for self-representation. To guarantee the best results in a criminal case, it is in your best interests to retain an experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.