A Marion County defendant whose right to proceed pro se was terminated after a judge determined his physical state precluded him from doing so has lost his appeal of that termination, with the Indiana Court of Appeals finding the man used his illness to try to influence the court and jury.
The case of Michael J. Love v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1712-CR-2971, began in July 2015, when Michael Love’s ex-girlfriend Sultanna Reed was placing her children in a car along with her brother, Zachariah Guyton, and his girlfriend, Becky Smith. As the adults approached Smith’s car, they noticed what appeared to be an elderly woman walking down the street, but later realized the woman was actually Love in disguise. In a footnote, the Court of Appeals said Guyton described the disguise as an attempt to dress like Madea, a character created and played by popular comedian Tyler Perry.
When Love approached the three adults at the car, he opened fire and struck Reed three times and Guyton once. Neighbors called the police, and after Guyton identified Love as the shooter, police found him at his home and took him into custody.
Love was subsequently charged with two counts of Level 1 felony attempted murder and was appointed a public defender. He later hired private counsel, but was eventually granted permission to proceed pro se. The court continued the previously-scheduled trial four times at Love’s request, and his public defender was appointed as standby counsel.
Love proceeded pro se from December 2016 until October 2017, when the Marion Superior Court determined he was not physically able to represent himself. Specifically, Love suffered from chronic pain and had a urostomy bag, among other issues, that led to continual medical complications, including swelling, numbness and severe pain.
While he was still proceeding pro se, Love filed motions alleging his public defender was “sabotaging” his case and complained that he did not have adequate access to the law library and that his illnesses negatively affected his state of mind. On one instance he informed the trial court that he would need to lay down during his trial due to a hernia, lifting his shirt to reveal the hernia to the judge.
Love also moved to be released on his own recognizance due to what he claimed was inadequate medical care in the jail, but the trial court noted he had been taken to Eskenazi Hospital 18 times and had refused treatment each time. The court then ordered Love’s standby counsel to step in, noting he came to court in wheelchair, was audibly groaning and had brought bags of urine into the courtroom.
Love was ultimately found guilty as charged and filed an appeal challenging the termination of his right to proceed pro se. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s termination, with Judge Robert Altice writing that “Love’s actions speak louder than his words.”
“Although Love managed to represent himself by filing various motions and presenting argument to the court, most of his pleadings largely consisted of delaying his trial date, seeking co-counsel and an investigator by complaining about the disadvantages of self-representation,” Altice wrote. “During hearings before the court, Love would resort to making accusations of discriminatory treatment by the court, his public defender, and the jail if things did not go his way.”
Thus, the court determined that under the totality of the circumstances, Love was not willing to move forward with the proceedings in a timely manner and was not willing to abide by acceptable courtroom decorum, making the termination of his pro se representation appropriate.