Charlotte murder defendants joust with judge over plea and trial

Conversations between a judge and two defendants Thursday put a plea bargain for an accused teenage killer on hold and may delay a Feb. 2 murder trial of a Charlotte man accused of fatally beating his infant daughter.

Superior Court Judge Bob Bell ordered competency assessments for both David Simpson and Todd Boderick.

Simpson was 16 – and already the owner of a police record involving several arrests on handgun and theft charges – when he was charged with a December 2013 shooting death on East Trade Street.

His attorney, Stephanie Jackson of Charlotte, says prosecutors have offered Simpson the chance to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and serve a sentence of six to eight years. First-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence without parole.

But on two occasions Thursday, the 18-year-old bogged down answering mandatory questions from Bell to determine whether he understood the implications of his plea.

At times, Simpson gave contradictory answers and told Bell he wasn’t satisfied with his lawyers.

“Do you understand the charges against you?” Bell asked.

“I’m kinda slow to understand some stuff,” the bespectacled teenager replied.

Bell again: “Do you understand that you’ve been charged with first-degree murder involving malice and premeditation?”

Simpson paused before answering. “Premeditation?” he asked.

Jackson told the judge that she had not seen Simpson behave like this. That led Bell to order a psychological assessment of Simpson before any talk of a plea bargain resumes.

Bell wondered whether Simpson’s confusion was sincere or if he was “playing a game.”

“Either way,” the judge said, “it won’t work out favorably for him.”

Boderick, 27, was charged with the 2012 beating death of his 6-month-old daughter, Keyoni. The child’s mother also faces murder charges in the case.

Since his arrest, the defendant has gone through three attorneys. In repeated courtroom appearances, he also has challenged the constitutional authority of the courts.

His arguments resemble those of the Moorish Nation, a movement that believes African-Americans are a separate nation not answerable to U.S. laws or courts. Boderick also has asked his lawyers to refer to him as Todd Boderick-Bey.

One of those former attorneys, Calvin Coleman of Shelby, said Thursday he does not know whether Boderick is a self-proclaimed Moorish national.

“He is sincere about his beliefs,” said Coleman, who was in court as a standby attorney when Boderick stood before Bell. “He believes that this is a private matter and the court has no right to be involved.”

Boderick has been his own attorney since December 2013. But less than a month before the scheduled start of his trial, he has not gone through any of the boxes of evidence the prosecution has gathered against him.

Another complication: The county jail has not accepted the boxes of files out of liability concerns. Nor has Boderick shown much interest in mounting a defense.

When given a chance to talk Thursday, Boderick again questioned the legitimacy of the hearing. Bell cut him off.

“I think I have all the jurisdiction I need to keep you where you are,” the judge said. “You can play this out as long as you want ... I’m not going to engage in this dialog.”

When he ordered a mental assessment, prosecutors advised Bell that Boderick’s trial was near.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen unless Mr. Boderick has an epiphany,” Bell replied.

A break-through did not seem eminent. As deputies started to lead him from the courtroom, Boderick leaned back toward his microphone.

“I would ask that the record reflect that the judge has deprived me of my rights.” he said.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer