By Rob Moritz
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — A request by the state Public Defender Commission for an additional $500,000 to help cover the attorneys fees of defendants who have private lawyers isn’t sitting well with some state lawmakers.
"This bothers me," Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravett, said during today’s meeting of the Legislative Council.
The commission has requested the additional money in next fiscal year’s budget following a May state Supreme Court ruling that the state must pay for defending accused soldier killer Abdul-Hakim Muhammad even though his family hired an attorney.
Muhammad faces capital murder and other charges in the shooting death of a Conway soldier and the wounding of another outside a Little Rock recruiting office in June 2009.
The commission had argued in a lawsuit that because Muhammad had retained counsel, the state should not have to spend any money on his defense.
"Paying $500,000 for somebody who shot a soldier just doesn’t go down very well with me," Hendren said.
Hendren and Sen. Ruth Whitaker, R-Cedarville, said they wanted to be notified when the budget request is made during the 2011 session.
"I want a chance … to vote against that sucker," Hendren said.
Commission Director Didi Sallings did not attend today’s meeting but said in an interview later that the additional $500,000 is to cover the cost of Muhammad’s attorney, as well those of seven other defendants who have requested assistance since the May ruling.
Sallings said she hopes the Legislature understands that the commission is simply following the Supreme Court’s ruling and that the additional $500,000 also was recommended by the governor’s office.
"We fought it and lost. We now have to follow the court order," she said.
Muhammad is charged with capital murder, attempted capital murder and unlawful discharge of a weapon in the shooting death of Army Pvt. William Long of Conway and the wounding of Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville.
The soldiers were shot as they stood outside the Army-Navy Career Center in west Little Rock. Muhammad has said the shootings were in response to U.S. actions in the Middle East.