Attorney says client devised defense strategy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas attorney facing disciplinary action for a case in which he represented a capital murder defendant claims he is being punished for using a trial strategy that was developed by his client.

Dennis Hawver of Ozawkie represented Phillip Cheatham Jr. during a jury trial in 2005 in which Cheatham was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. The Kansas Supreme Court reversed Cheatham’s convictions in 2013 and ordered a new trial, ruling he had received ineffective counsel from Hawver. Cheatham is to return to court Jan. 5.

The three-member Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys recommended Hawver be disbarred or indefinitely suspended after a disciplinary hearing in November. Hawver filed a brief with the high court on Tuesday, contesting the board’s findings that he “was not competent to represent Cheatham,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reported ( ).

The Supreme Court hasn’t ruled yet on the disciplinary action.

During the hearing, Hawver testified he never took courses in how to defend a client charged in a death penalty case. He asked the panel to order him not to handle any murder cases but to allow him to take other cases in his Jefferson County law practice.

In his 42-page brief, Hawver described Cheatham as “an experienced and highly street-smart and intelligent criminal” who was a cocaine dealer convicted of killing another “dope dealer.” Hawver also said Cheatham’s trial strategy was to tell jurors that if he had killed two women in 2003, he wouldn’t have left alive a third shooting victim to identify him.

“This trial strategy, developed and approved by Cheatham in writing, is the trial strategy that (Hawver) is now being prosecuted for,” Hawver said.

Hawver also said Wednesday he isn’t likely to stay in the business.

“I think I’m going to quit practicing law no matter what they do,” he said. “I don’t think practicing law is productive.”


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal,



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