Defendant Represents Himself in 1995 Murder of Delta Flight Attendant
All eyes are on a Cobb County courtroom this morning as Superior Court Judge Mary Staley continues hearing arguments in the murder trial against defendant Waseem Daker. Daker, 35, of Lawrenceville, is representing himself against charges of killing Delta flight attendant Karmen Smith and stabbing her 5-year-old son in 1995. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, aggravated stalking, and burglary.
The three-week trial began last week with a half-dozen armed Cobb County sheriff deputies searching Daker’s numerous boxes of files and law books for dangerous objects, even going as far as removing every staple from each bound document.
Deputies remain close by to protect witnesses who are being cross-examined. Lines were drawn on the courtroom carpet with tape to display territory in which Daker must remain. He is only allowed to walk to the podium that is used by lawyers and is not allowed to approach the bench, witnesses, or jury.
Loretta Spencer Blatz, Smith’s roommate and friend, testified last week that Daker became obsessed with her a few months after they met on a paintball team in 1994. She became frightened of Daker when he “began calling her 50, 100 times a day” and banging on her door at all hours. At one point he threatened to kill her and her then 10-year-old daughter.
Daker was convicted in 1996 of stalking Blatz and served 10 years in prison. Police identified him as a possible suspect in Smith’s death soon after the slaying, but it was not until 2009 that they were able to connect him to the crime scene through nuclear DNA testing of hairs found on Smith’s body.
Blatz testified Daker murdered Smith after she attempted to intervene to protect Blatz from Daker’s repeated threats.
During Daker’s cross of Blatz, he tried to discredit her by suggesting he and Blatz had an intimate relationship. Blatz maintained that she had “never” kissed or been intimate with Daker. After nearly a full day of cross, he asked her if she believed he killed Smith. Her answer: “Beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
Albert Schilling, Blatz’ fiancé at the time of Smith’s murder, supported the state’s theory of “obsession and revenge.” On cross, Daker asked Schilling when he’d last talked to Blatz and whether he was still romantically involved with her.
Smith’s son, who survived the attack, is scheduled to testify by the middle of this week.
Daker’s pro se defense comes after his numerous motions to fire his court-appointed lawyers, the father-son law firm Treadaway & Treadaway, paid by Cobb County’s indigent defense program. Daker believed he and counsel had “diverging strategies.” Judge Staley denied Daker’s motions on Monday and again on Tuesday after repeatedly warning him of the dangers of self-representation. “I’m not bending the rules to accommodate your ignorance,” she said.
Daker brought the issue up again on Wednesday at which time Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Jessie Evans expressed concerns about appellate issues. Although Evans said it was not his preference, he believed “it’s better to allow him to represent himself.” Judge Staley relented and sent Michael Treadaway, the elder of the father-and-son team, out of the courtroom, but instructed the son, Jason Treadaway, to remain – seated one row behind the wall and the defense table – to act as back-up counsel and to provide any research or subpoenas that a defendant in custody cannot handle.
Daker turned around for many whispered conversations with Treadaway during the first week of the trial. Cobb County Court Administrator Tom Charron believes Treadaway’s role remains crucial to the integrity of the trial stating, “It’s important for the judge to put on the record that the defendant has back-up counsel to offer legal advice if needed.”
Judge Staley has the difficult job of walking a fine line between maintaining order in her courtroom and ensuring a fair trial for a pro se defendant. “The court has to be real careful,” said Charron. “A person does have the right to represent himself, but you want to guard against any error.”
If found guilty, Daker faces life in prison.