Murder suspect could be added to caseload piling up for Miller County public defenders

Police tape wraps around cones at the Riverview RV park and campground in Lake Ozark following a double homicide. (File).

As hundreds of open cases mount for public defenders in Miller County, the office is bracing itself for the possible appointment to represent a murder suspect.

The Area 19 public defender's office covers Cole, Moniteau, and Miller Counties. Public Defender Justin Carver said his office is working more than 300 open cases in Miller County. He said about 220 of those cases are his.

"I'm simply not effectively representing the people I'm already tasked with representing," said Carver Wednesday night. "Looking ahead at some of those pending Miller County cases that are there, I can't take those, too. With more cases, it's only going to get worse."

One of those pending cases could involve Miller County's recent double murder suspect. Online court records show Gary Sweet is still without an attorney. In addition to the murder charges, Sweet also faces two assault charges and numerous counts of armed criminal action.

It's unclear if Sweet has been ruled indigent, which would require the court to assign him a lawyer. A case review on his counsel status is set for December 6.

"Murder cases take an inordinate amount of time," said Carver. "I'm happy to represent him or anybody, but I've got to have the time to do it. If I'm going to be assigned a case that's going to require a huge time commitment, and there's not enough for me already. then it seems to me what needs to happen is other arrangements should be made on some of the other cases."

Carver has filed a motion based on court rules requesting the presiding Miller County judge to appoint another lawyer in numerous cases. Carver said the judge has yet to grant any relief.

"In a nutshell, the judge said 'look, I get it, it's a problem.' His take on it was, it's a legislative problem. He didn't think he had any great solutions. Appointing a member of the private bar, there's a problem with that. Appointing a state lawyer, problems with that. He said 'look, I'm going to keep the public defenders in it because I don't have any other great options,'" said Carver.

After recent guidance from the Missouri Supreme Court, Carver is now filing requests for conferences addressing the caseload issue with judges. He said he recently had one with Cole County Judge Patricia Joyce, and he's set to have one soon with Judge Jon Kaltenbronn in Miller County December 4.

The request is based on state statute as opposed to court rules, Carver said.

Carver filed one of these motions in John Powell's case. Powell faces assault charges in Miller County after he allegedly tortured a man at an RV park in September. The victim eventually died.

It's unclear if the charges will be amended as a result of the death. Miller County Prosecutor Benjamin Winfrey did not return a request for comment on this story Wednesday.

KRCG13 also requested comment from Judge Kaltenbronn but staff at the Miller County courthouse said he was out of the office until next week.

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