Defendant in Carter murder pleads not guilty

Published 9:09 pm Thursday, March 19, 2015

Leon Jerome Hayes has become the second of three co-defendants to plead not guilty to murder and other charges stemming from last year’s shooting death of 82-year-old Suffolk businessman Donald Carter.

After a different judge relieved Hayes’ previous counsel when he refused to enter any plea during an initial arraignment hearing in February, the 34-year-old appeared before Suffolk Circuit Court Chief Judge Carl Edward Eason Jr. on Thursday represented by a new court-appointed attorney, Afshin Farashahi.

At first, Hayes was again unwilling to enter any plea. Farashahi — who was formally appointed only Thursday — said he has met with Hayes at Western Tidewater Regional Jail and reviewed the legal paperwork.

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His client was now saying he’s not ready to plead, Farashahi said, adding, “I’m not certain why he’s not ready.”

Before calling a recess so Farashahi could consult with his client, Eason told Hayes: “This is not something (that) by just saying, ‘I’m not ready,’ it’s not going to happen, and you can keep putting it off.”

Hayes tried communicating with the judge directly but was told he should explain his issues to his counsel, who would then inform Eason.

When the hearing resumed, Farashahi said Hayes had walked out of the room when he tried to talk to him. “He indicated to me he wanted to represent himself,” the attorney said.

Hayes sat with his arms crossed over his chest and eyes locked on a place near the front of the court away from where the judge sat. He refused to respond to Eason, who said he wouldn’t address the issue of the defendant representing himself while the defendant was unresponsive. “Not to say I would grant that request anyway,” the judge added.

Eason asked Hayes to make his pleas known as the charges were read aloud. When Hayes didn’t respond to the first charge enunciated, first-degree murder, Eason said the court would take it as a not-guilty plea.

The charge of conspiracy to commit armed robbery was read next, and Hayes finally found his voice.

“Where’s my preliminary hearing for that charge?” he asked. “They added that charge on after I had been indicted. I have a right to face that at a preliminary hearing.”

Eason replied, “A grand jury has returned an indictment. What’s your plea?”

“I’m not understanding,” Hayes said.

Farashahi was allowed a few more minutes to attempt to reason with his client. When the hearing resumed again, Hayes quietly pleaded not guilty to each of his charges, which also include attempted armed robbery, two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and possession of a firearm after a felony conviction.

For his first five charges, Hayes opted for a jury trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 8. On a defense motion, with no objections from the commonwealth, Eason set aside the second firearm charge for a separate jury trial, which is yet to be scheduled.

Carter was slain outside his East Washington Street furniture store on Sept. 22. The commonwealth alleges he was shot to death in a botched robbery by Hayes, Katron Walker and Naomi Lambert, after — according to prosecution testimony — inviting the witness, Lambert and one other female inside his building, where he offered liquor and money for sex.

Lambert, after pleading not guilty to the murder charge and four other charges, is set for a jury trial in July.

After he was determined mentally unfit for trial, Walker’s progress toward rehabilitation is set for review in the court in May.