Donald Owen Jr.

Donald Owen Jr.

GOSHEN — Frustrated with feeling left in the dark, an Elkhart man signaled he’d rather go it alone and defend himself while charged with murdering a Columbia City woman last year.

Donald Owen Jr., 21, voiced several complaints during a hearing in his case Thursday in Elkhart County Circuit Court.

The hearing was initially set to check attorney responses to the results of mental health evaluations last month that found Owen was competent to stand trial. Both the prosecution and Owen’s attorney said they didn’t need to set another hearing to discuss the issue further.

Owen and co-defendant Mario Angulo, 19, of Elkhart, are each charged with murder, robbery and criminal confinement. They allegedly tortured and killed Kimberly Dyer, 31, and robbed a man, Robert Porter, of Sturgis, Michigan, while holding them at a house along Old Orchard Lane in Elkhart in October.

If convicted, the two could face a life sentence in prison. A third man, Matthew Murzynski, 24, is also charged with helping confine Dyer and robbing Porter.

Owen’s trial is scheduled to begin June 15, but chief public defender Peter Todd indicated the defense case might not be ready by then. Todd, who’s serving as co-counsel in the case, didn’t ask to reschedule the trial.

Deputy prosecuting attorney Katelyn Doyle added the prosecutor’s office plans to join Owen’s case with Angulo’s. She suggested pushing Owen’s trial back to align with the Oct. 5 date for Angulo’s trial.

Judge Michael Christofeno indicated there could be wrinkles in that. Angulo’s trial was rescheduled from May to October a couple weeks ago due to the COVID-19 emergency. Trials have been suspended in Elkhart County through May 4 in response to the pandemic, and Christofeno believed a decision to extend the suspension could come in a couple weeks. So, while that could create logistical challenges for trials into the summer, Christofeno said he also anticipates Angulo’s trial could be moved up — Angulo’s attorney had pushed for an earlier date.

Owen broke in, expressing frustration and impatience with the legal process. Speaking from the jail through a video hookup to the courtroom, he said the request for a mental competency evaluation was made without his consent, and it wasted his time.

“I’m trying to proceed for a speedy trial like I’ve been asking for,” Owen said.

Christofeno said a speedy trial request now would hit a wall with the current emergency order in effect.

“We have to ride out this COVID-19 storm,” Christofeno said.

Owen vented other complaints at the judge, stating he is mentally competent, and questioning why he hasn’t seen his attorney in weeks or the prosecution’s evidence against him.

“I have no idea what’s going on with my case at all,” Owen said. “I get lied to about every single thing.”

He also complained about his situation at the jail while emergency conditions are in place there as well. Again, Christofeno suggested he’s going to have to ride it out with everyone else.

“COVID-19 has changed everything,” Christofeno said. “It’s hard on everybody.”

Todd also told Owen the public defender’s office hasn’t neglected his case, but it has been affected by the outbreak.

After the hearing, Todd said the office in Goshen went under a quarantine for a couple weeks after an attorney was tested for the coronavirus. Services were transferred to the office in Elkhart, and attorneys had worked from home. The quarantine ended Wednesday, he said.

Todd also said the results on the attorney who was tested came back as inconclusive.

Owen, meanwhile, argued he felt ignored in the court system before the COVID-19 outbreak. Frustrated by what he saw as a slow pace, he said he’d rather represent himself at trial and wanted to dismiss the public defender’s office.

Christofeno cautioned him if he went solo, he’d be held to the same standards and procedures as trained, professional attorneys.

A final decision on Owen’s representation wasn’t stated during the hearing. And his trial remains set for June 15.

Afterward, Todd addressed Owen’s claim, and said he has seen him at the jail.

“It’s not unusual for people in his situation to claim that they haven’t seen their attorney. And that’s not usually the case,” Todd said.

He also said public defender attorneys have not met with clients face-to-face at the jail amid the pandemic and his office’s quarantine. They’ve been able to speak via video and phone conferencing systems set up at the jail, adding they aren’t monitored or recorded.

The office has a legal assistant at the jail to address defendants’ needs by helping with questions, forwarding messages to attorneys and getting paperwork signed.

Todd said attorneys have also mostly spoken by phone with clients who are not in custody. Though there have been limited situations where face-to-face meetings were held.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240316. Follow her on Twitter at @aambrose_TGN.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240316. Follow her on Twitter at @aambrose_TGN.

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