LITTLE ROCK (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday it will consider a judge's ruling that the state must pay the fees for a private attorney representing a man accused of killing a soldier at a military recruiting center.
The high court issued a stay on Circuit Judge Herbert Wright's ruling and granted an expedited briefing on funding for Abdulhakim Muhammad's defense.
Wright had ordered the Public Defender Commission to pay for Muhammad's defense, even though he's represented by a private attorney hired by his family.
The commission objects to paying for outside counsel, saying it will open the door to public funding for private attorneys. In court last month, executive director Didi Sallings said Muhammad's attorney "is asking the state to subsidize his private practice."
She formally denied the request for funding Wednesday.
The Supreme Court said it needs to "fully examine the procedural and substantive issues presented by the parties," ordering briefs due within 15 days.
Muhammad is charged with capital murder for the June 2009 slaying of Army Pvt. William Long and the wounding of another soldier at a Little Rock recruiting center. In phone calls and letters to the members of the media, Muhammad claimed the shootings were justified because of U.S. military action in the Middle East.
Muhammad's attorney, Claiborne Ferguson, has said he was hired by Muhammad's family but because Muhammad himself can't afford the cost of a defense, he should be entitled to funding from the public defender's commission.
Ruling from the bench, Wright said the issue was whether Muhammad was indigent and unable to pay for legal representation. Muhammad testified that he had no job, car or savings and Wright found him indigent.
Ferguson said Thursday he was hopeful the court would agree with Wright's decision. He noted that Muhammad is set for trial in June and that money is needed to pay for investigators and experts.
"Without the funding in place, it's very little likelihood that the case will be in a position to be tried in June," Ferguson said.