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Public defender appointed in manslaughter case

Judge Bruce Lubeck on Monday appointed a public defender to represent Erik Low in his upcoming manslaughter trial, telling Low there was no basis for him to allow Low to select his own attorney to serve as a public defender.

Lubeck appointed Paul Quinlan to the case. Low wanted Lubeck to appoint Ken Brown to defend him. Brown served as Low’s attorney through two trials stemming from the 2003 shooting death of Michael Hirschey.

The judge, though, indicated Brown, who agreed to reduce his rate for the case, is not a public defender contracted with Summit County. Lubeck said he could not appoint Brown to the case without Summit County agreeing.

Summit County Attorney David Brickey, the lead prosecutor, said Brown’s potential role in the trial should not be discussed on Monday.

Lubeck did not set a trial date, and another court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 22.

Low, 40, faces a second-degree felony charge of manslaughter. If he is convicted, he faces a sentence of between 1 and 15 years in state prison. A jury previously convicted him of manslaughter in the case and he was sentenced to jail.

The conviction came during a second trial in the case. The jury in the first was unable to render a decision on a murder charge, prompting the second trial.

He appealed the conviction, claiming the jury was given faulty instructions. The state Supreme Court agreed and reversed the conviction, leading to the current proceedings.

Low is incarcerated. Bail is set at $250,000, with the judge requiring a cash payment for Low to make bail.

Low killed Hirschey in a Kearns Boulevard apartment after a night of partying and roughhousing. Low’s side claims he shot Hirschey in self-defense.

The Monday court proceedings lasted about 10 minutes. Low wore a white prison jumpsuit with his hands shackled behind him. There was brief discussion about transferring Low from the state prison in Draper to the Summit County Jail.

Low, though, indicated he has carved out a life at the prison. He said he has nearly obtained an associate’s degree through an education program for inmates and he has buddies in the prison.

"I have friends, people. I have college," Low said.

In an interview after Monday’s appearance, Brown he would defend Low "for a significant reduction in my normal fee" if he were appointed his public defender. Taxpayers fund public defenders. Low cannot afford to retain Brown at his normal rate, his side said on Monday.

Brown said he is better prepared to defend Low than a court-appointed attorney like Quinlan would be. He indicated he would approach Brickey to try to negotiate an agreement to be appointed Low’s attorney.

"I understand the case, tried it twice. It’s a very fascinating, interesting case," Brown said, adding, "I’ve poured a lot of my life into Erik Low."

Quinlan, speaking in an interview after the appearance, agreed he cannot represent Low as well as Brown can, saying that an attorney who has mounted a defense in two trials will have more background than one who is appointed to the case afterward. Quinlan said he is "troubled" by Brown’s unwillingness to continue representing Low.

"Any attorney who comes in at this point in the proceedings is not going to be as well prepared," Quinlan said in an interview, adding if Brown is not appointed to the case it would "certainly compromise Mr. Low’s situation."

Brickey said afterward Summit County contracts with two public defenders, including Quinlan, and they are "seasoned" attorneys. He rebuffed the bid by Brown to be appointed a public defender for Low.

"There shouldn’t be any special exceptions for anybody," Brickey said.


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