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THOMPSON FALLS - At a court hearing Tuesday, defense attorneys for accused killers Roxanna Shepard and Melvin Green said they will waive their clients' rights to a speedy trial.

Shepard and Green are accused of murder and kidnapping in the July 24 death of Steven "Bubba" Ash, 17, of Plains.

Their lawyers agreed to set up a schedule with prosecutors to bring the Shepard case to trial in the next few months. The defendants have been in custody since July.

This schedule will be submitted to the court by Jan. 16, said defense attorney Chuck Watson of Bozeman.

Shepard, 41, is from Plains, and Green, 20, is from Thompson Falls. Shepard faces the death penalty if convicted.

At the standing-room-only teleconference hearing in a cramped judicial chamber in the Sanders County Courthouse in Thompson Falls, presiding District Judge Kim Christopher of Polson also authorized Shepard's defense team to hire a third lawyer to help with the defense of Shepard.

She is accused of being the ringleader in the murder of Ash. Special consideration must be given by the judge to assure competent counsel for defendants facing the death penalty.

Christopher agreed that former state Appellate Defender's Office lawyer William Hooks of Helena may prepare and respond to motions in the case.

Defense lawyers Watson and Kirk Krutilla of Superior already have brought more before Christopher. Green's attorney, Carolyn Gill of Plains, said she will join in the motions. The two alleged conspirators will be tried separately.

Many of these motions are routine, and not disputed by prosecutors. But several are significant, including the motion late in December by Krutilla and Watson to suppress evidence gathered in a police search of Shepard's home early in the investigation of Ash's disappearance.

At Tuesday hearing, defense and prosecution lawyers agreed to determine by early February which of the defense motions will require special attention, and perhaps lengthy and contentious hearings on the evidence.

As for hiring Hooks, Christopher said she was concerned about appointing Hooks as a third defense counsel because it might exceed American Bar Association guidelines for appointment of defense counsel in death penalty cases. Those guidelines were adopted just last February.

Watson said hiring Hooks "will actually save (the public) money" because of his expertise in such cases.

After special prosecutor John Connor, chief criminal counsel in the state Department of Justice, said he had no objection to the defense hiring Hooks, the judge agreed that Hooks could join the defense team at public expense.

In another ruling, Christopher said that a secret file will be maintained in the case to contain documents, motions and other information filed "ex parte" by the defense team directly to the judge.

The information in these filings will not be available to the public or the prosecutor. Christopher told Watson and Krutilla it was their responsibility to label such ex parte filings appropriately, so that the local clerk of court could make sure they were not available as public documents filed in the case.

Shepard's defense team has asked that certain issues, such as fees for some defense work, be confidential, because public review of such information might compromise the lawyers' strategy to defend Shepard.

Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at jstromnes@missoulian.com

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