ORANGE—Less than three weeks before his trial was set to start, the man accused in last year’s laundromat killing asked for and has been granted a new court-appointed attorney, substantially delaying proceedings in the case.
Michael Alan Humphries, 37, of Locust Grove pleaded not guilty in October to first-degree murder in the Feb. 13, 2018, shooting death of 24-year-old Alistair Smith, of Unionville, inside Wendell’s Place Laundromat on Route 20 in Locust Grove.
Court-appointed defense attorney Adam Rhea has represented the homicide suspect since the beginning, and a year ago requested a mental evaluation, which was granted, before the trial was scheduled to start April 29.
Friday in Orange Circuit Court, Humphries, wearing an overgrown beard with long hair, told the court he could no longer communicate with Rhea and needed a new attorney. In recent days, the defendant informed the court of his request via a letter—correspondence Judge Dale Durrer said put the defense attorney in an awkward position.
“Has the relationship broken down such that you cannot communicate with Mr. Rhea?” Durrer asked.
To which Humphries replied, “I would say it never existed.”
The letter contained apparent claims, not disclosed in court, indicating the attorney-client privilege had been compromised, which Rhea disputed.
“I factually dispute it. I don’t want to go into great detail,” the defense attorney said, noting Humphries “wants a second opinion on the case.” Rhea said he was willing to stay on the case, but would not oppose substitute counsel.
Durrer asked Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana O’Connell her thoughts on the matter. She advised the judge some 40 witnesses had already been summoned for the trial scheduled to start in 17 days and that Rhea had spent hours reviewing the case and should be compensated for his work.
“A lot of witnesses put their lives on hold for the trial,” she said, while expressing concerns about exceeding the timeline for the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.
Humphrey stated he would waive that right in requesting a new attorney.
Durrer said, “There is absolutely no way this court would expect another attorney to try this case at the end of April—it’s not fair. These are very serious charges that require a lot of time.”
The judge told Humphries that Rhea had put in substantial hours preparing for the case, as he does with all cases to which the court appoints him. Durrer scolded Humphries for the last-minute request, saying he should have raised the issue of getting a new attorney months ago.
“It’s a huge inconvenience,” Durrer said.
Humphries replied, “I was hoping it was going to get better than it was,” of the relationship with Rhea.
Durrer told the defendant his trial would be delayed and he would likely remain incarcerated. Humphries nodded, adding, “I understand it’s a huge burden on the court,” but that he would not change his mind. The judge further pressed the defendant, saying Rhea is good attorney who had tried lots of cases before him.
“I gave you one of the best. I’m not happy with you, Mr. Humphries,” Durrer said. “It feels like you are trying to play games with my docket and I don’t like that. I control my docket.”
The judge said he would nonetheless allow Rhea to withdraw from the case, noting he would still get paid for his time in the case “to the fullest extent of the law.”
At this point, Rhea left Humphries’ side and sat down at the lawyers’ table, leaving the murder suspect standing by himself, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, in front of the judge. The public seating area behind him, meanwhile, was packed full of Orange County middle school students observing the proceedings as part of a field trip.
At this point, Durrer asked attorney David Randle, of Stanardsville, present in the courtroom, if he would accept an appointment to represent Humphries.
“He is an excellent attorney, who like Mr. Rhea, has tried thousands of cases,” the judge said.
Randle accepted the appointment and a status hearing was set for April 30.
“So does that satisfy your request, Mr. Humphries?” Durrer asked to which the defendant replied, yes, before being led away by court bailiffs.
Orange County authorities responded to the scene of the reported murder that February morning after a report of a male with a gunshot wound to the head. Smith was found lying on his stomach on the floor along with three spent cartridges and a loaded cartridge, according to court records.
While still on the scene, the lead investigator was notified that Humphries had turned himself in at the local jail. The defendant reportedly told police he “shot a guy,” according to the criminal complaint.
Video footage from the business showed a man walking into the laundromat, shooting the victim with a long rifle and then exiting the business.
Humphries has no prior criminal history and was working as a mechanic at the time of his arrest.
Smith served three years in the U.S. Army and had a young daughter, according to his father. Smith was employed at a nearby convenience store at the time of his death. According to the criminal complaint, Humphries’ wife worked at the same store and the defendant believed she and Smith were having an affair.