A Columbus man once sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting 24-year-old Catherine Walker on Dec. 16, 2008 is back for a new trial this week after the Georgia Supreme Court overturned his conviction.
Ulysses Wiggins was convicted of murder in 2010, but the state Supreme Court reversed that this past Jan. 19 on the grounds Wiggins at one point told the trial court he wanted to represent himself, and the trial judge held no hearing on his request.
Three months before his trial, Wiggins wrote a letter stating: "What I am asking for is a chance to come before the court. I am more than ready to defend myself. … I cannot allow Mr. Quezada to represent me."
Wiggins' attorney Pete Quezada had a heart attack while representing Wiggins. Wiggins thought the lawyer blamed him for the assault.
Quezada remained his attorney, and after a one-day bench trial, then-Superior Court Chief Judge John Allen found Wiggins guilty of all charges.
The Supreme Court said the evidence was sufficient to find Wiggins guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but "the trial court erred by failing to hold a hearing to determine whether appellant's request to proceed pro se was knowingly and intelligently made …."
Both the U.S. and state constitution guarantee a defendant the right to an attorney and the right to self-representation, the court said.
“Appellant’s request to proceed pro se was virtually ignored by both the trial court and counsel prior to trial, and relying only on appellant’s silence at the start of trial, the trial court ‘assumed’ appellant had waived his previously asserted right…. We find that appellant’s mere silence was insufficient to establish a knowing and intelligent waiver of his already invoked right to self-representation.”
Investigators said Walker’s death resulted from a domestic dispute to which she was a bystander. She was at a Talbotton Road apartment complex when Wiggins became enraged that his girlfriend Valorice Caples was leaving him because of his abuse.
After fighting with Caples and her friend Carolyn Senior, Wiggins went to his home a few blocks away and got a gun, according to court records. Police said Wiggins then began chasing teenagers who had helped break up his previous dispute.
Caples and Senior again got away from Wiggins, who continued to prowl around the apartment complex. He eventually encountered Walker, whom he shot and killed as she stood outside, authorities said.
Wiggins was arrested as he tried to flee. He denied shooting Walker, claiming someone else was the gunman.
Attorneys picked a jury Monday for his new trial in Judge Frank Jordan Jr.’s Government Center courtroom. Opening statements are expected this morning.
Wiggins is charged with murder, using a firearm to commit a crime, and two counts of aggravated assault.