TOPEKA A Kansas prison inmate awaiting a new trial after the Kansas Supreme Court reversed his capital murder conviction and death sentence is firing back at the attorney who represented him when he was convicted in 2005 of killing two women and trying to kill a third.
Phillip Cheatham, 41, told The Topeka Capital-Journal in a jailhouse interview that attorney Dennis Hawver coerced him into approving a trial strategy that included telling jurors about Cheatham's drug-dealing past.
Hawver filed a 42-page brief last month defending himself after the three-member Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys recommended in November that he be disbarred or indefinitely suspended for the way he handled Cheatham's case.
In the brief, Hawver described Cheatham as "an experienced and highly street-smart and intelligent criminal" who was a cocaine dealer convicted of killing another "dope dealer." Hawver said Cheatham's trial strategy was to tell jurors that if he killed two women in 2003, he wouldn't have left a third shooting victim alive to identify him.
Annetta Thomas survived 19 bullet wounds to identify Cheatham as one of two shooters in the death of Gloria Jones and Annette Roberson. The shootings happened inside a Topeka home.
The Kansas Supreme Court reversed Cheatham's convictions last year and said he received ineffective counsel.
Hawver, of Ozawkie, says he was carrying out Cheatham's orders when he told jurors of the suspect's past.
"He was born in prison," Hawver said. "He had been in prison before, he knew how the system worked, and he's not a person who is easily coerced."
Cheatham's mother was incarcerated for drug-related crimes while pregnant with her son.
Cheatham said he was ignorant of his rights as recently as a decade ago. "I wasn't as knowledgeable about the law as I am now," he said.
Justices have yet to rule on the disciplinary board's recommendation that Hawver be disbarred.
Cheatham said the agreement was reached after Hawver declined funds offered by the state. He said Hawver then misled him about not being able to subpoena witnesses from out of state because he didn't have the money for research.
Several witnesses would have testified he was in Chicago at the time of the killings, Cheatham said, but Hawver didn't notify prosecutors in time to present evidence for an alibi at trial.
"I was prejudiced by those failures," Cheatham said. "He forced me to be a witness against myself and testify about my past."
Testifying on his own behalf, Cheatham told jurors a slaying in 1994 was "the first, last and only time I've ever shot anybody."
If he hadn't brought that shooting up, prosecutors couldn't have told jurors about it.