Murder trial delayed

Michael Alan Humphries II

A Locust Grove man charged with first-degree murder has a new attorney after petitioning the court, noting he was not happy with the services of his current counsel. The request came a couple of weeks before the defendant was scheduled to stand trial.

Michael Alan Humphries II, 37, whose case was scheduled for a week-long jury trial later this month, appeared in court Friday, April 12, for a brief hearing arranged just days earlier. According to Orange County Circuit Court Judge Dale Durrer, last Wednesday he received correspondence from the defendant which “should be addressed on the record,” prompting the hearing.

Humphries is charged in the Feb. 13, 2018 shooting death of Alistair C. Smith, of Unionville, in Wendell’s Place Laundromat on Route 20 in eastern Orange County. According to court records, Humphries told authorities he suspected his wife was having an affair with the victim, whom she worked with at a local convenience store. According to an investigator’s complaint, evidence in the case includes video footage of Humphries entering the laundromat and shooting Smith with a long rifle, witness testimony and Humphries’ own admission to the crime.

However, the defendant pleaded not guilty to both charges and has been held in Central Virginia Regional Jail without bail since his arrest. Humphries, who appeared in court Friday in an orange jumpsuit and with an overgrown beard, remained adamant about his request for a new attorney.

Durrer thanked the attorneys for appearing before him on such short notice before asking them for their thoughts on the letter in which Humphries accuses his court-appointed attorney, Adam Rhea, of not putting in enough time to properly represent him in court. The letter was not disclosed in court nor has it been made part of court documents.

“I factually dispute it,” Rhea said, explaining he had put in a considerable amount of work into the case.

The defense attorney said he read the letter as a motion from his client for new counsel, and while he was happy to stay on the case, he wasn’t opposed to being replaced as Humphries’ counsel.

Meanwhile, Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana O’Connell told the court Rhea had spent hours in her office reviewing video footage and other evidence related to the case. She also told the court her office was prepared to try the case with more than 40 witnesses who had “put their lives on hold for a week” to testify at the end of the month.

The judge told Humphries the Orange County Circuit Court is a very busy courtroom and finding five days for a trial was a difficult feat.

“If I grant your request, understand that it would inconvenience a lot of people,” Durrer said, adding the defendant’s request was coming “late in the game.”

Humphries told the judge he had hoped his relationship with Rhea would “get much better than it was.”

“I understand this puts an undue burden on the court,” the defendant said.

But when asked if he felt his relationship with his attorney had broken down to a point where he felt like it could no longer be effective moving forward, Humphries said “I would say it never existed.”

“I can tell you I am not happy with you,” Durrer told the defendant. “Part of me thinks you are trying to play games with my docket. I control my docket.”

Durrer said Rhea was a “really good attorney” whom he respects greatly, but ultimately excused him and appointed David Randle as counsel. However, Durrer explained to Humphries he was not expecting any other attorney to come on the case and be prepared for the trial scheduled April 29 through May 3. Instead, he told the defendant that with his request, he was choosing to waive his right to a speedy trial.

“I can tell you this is not going to happen again,” the judge told Humphries.

A review hearing was set for April 30 at 9:30 a.m.

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