Man accused of dismembering stripper will act as own lawyer

Terry Speaks
In a Oct. 15, 2014 file photo, Terry Speaks, center, a suspect in the 2012 stabbing and dismemberment of a Bourbon Street strip club dancer, arrives under heavy police guard at Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner, La. Trial is set to open Monday, June 15, 2015, for Speaks, accused of killing a New Orleans' French Quarter stripper in 2012, dismembering her and dumping body parts of the woman into the Gulf of Mexico. (Chris Granger/ The Times-Picayune via AP, File)

GRETNA, La. (AP) — A man accused of killing and dismembering a stripper after police say he and his girlfriend lured her from a club in the New Orleans French Quarter will be allowed to act as his own attorney, a judge said Monday.

“You understand that … I do not think this is a good idea,” Judge Stephen Grefer told Terry Speaks.

Speaks, who carried a 12-inch-thick set of files into court, said he graduated high school with grades of “99.9,” did well in standardized tests, had worked as a manager and was “a little” familiar with court rules.

“Do you understand that self-representation is almost always unwise and may be detrimental?” Grefer asked.

Speaks said he did.

The judge asked, “Do you understand that whatever the outcome, you will not be able to claim inadequate representation?” Again, Speaks said yes.

Grefer said he rejected Speaks’ contention that public defender John Benz and a second appointed lawyer were unprepared. But the judge ultimately said he would grant Speaks’ motion to defend himself and appoint the two attorneys as his assistants.

Speaks and his former girlfriend, Margaret Sanchez, each have pleaded not guilty to charges including second-degree murder of 24-year-old Jaren Lockhart.

Sanchez’s trial date has not been scheduled.

They are accused of dumping Lockhart, who worked at a Bourbon Street club and lived with her boyfriend in a motel, into the Gulf of Mexico after dismembering her.

The judge put off deciding another defense motion. Benz wants jurors to learn the criminal history of two prosecution witnesses, both jailhouse informants set to testify against Speaks. But, as Speaks’ adviser, he agreed that the question could wait until the witnesses are called.

Conviction on the second-degree murder charge would mean a mandatory life sentence. Speaks and Sanchez also are charged with obstructing justice by dismembering Lockhart’s body, and with conspiracy to do so.

Lockhart’s torso washed ashore on a beach in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, days after her boyfriend reported her missing. There was a stab wound in the chest; tattoos and body piercings helped identify her. Other body parts and clothing washed ashore in Pass Christian and Long Beach, Mississippi.

Surveillance video showed Speaks and Sanchez leaving Temptations Gentlemens Club with Lockhart on June 6, 2012, the night before she was reported missing.

But a defense pretrial motion said FBI agents and local investigators had uncovered no evidence to show Lockhart was ever in Speaks’ apartment or in Sanchez’s car.

Prosecutors have said they linked Speaks and Sanchez to Lockhart through other testimony, surveillance video and license plate photos, along with an email Speaks wrote to Sanchez while in federal prison, where she was serving time for an unrelated crime after his arrest.

Part of a section of the email quoted in a prosecution motion says, “I want to tell everything to the people just so you can suffer like me. I did everything to clean up the mess we made and where’s the thanks … You’re the one they’ll fry and not me.”

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