The man accused of murdering an Acampo father and son last month declared his intention to plead guilty Monday morning, even if that meant a possible death sentence.
Howard Daniel Smith, 40, allegedly shot and killed Jonathan Meagher, 48, and his father, 84-year-old William Robert Meagher, on March 25, according to prosecutors.
During an arraignment hearing Tuesday, Smith expressed his desire to plead guilty, and reiterated his previous refusal of an attorney.
"There's no need (for an attorney)," Smith said. "I know what I did; I know the consequences."
Superior Court Judge Xapuri Villapudua expressed reservations about not providing an attorney, and cautioned Smith that pleading guilty to such serious crimes could lead to a death sentence.
"I'm willing to accept that," Smith said in response, sitting alone at the defense table in a red jumpsuit and restrained in shackles.
Villapudua mandated that a public defender be assigned to Smith regardless, a decision met with minor protest by county Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa.
Testa said he had concerns that requiring Smith be represented by an attorney may result in complications if the case is appealed, citing examples from previous cases. A defendant has the legal right to represent themselves, Testa said, and interfering with that could invalidate a guilty plea.
"At this point, I want to give Mr. Smith a chance to speak to counsel," Villapudua said.
Smith has been charged with 10 felonies, which include first-degree murder, attempted murder, burglary, carjacking and possessing a firearm. According to court documents, Smith used a TEC-9 handgun to shoot Jonathan Meagher, and an AK-47 assault rifle on Meagher's father
Two other victims were allegedly shot at: Smith's ex-girlfriend, Lorie-Ann Irvine, and her current partner, Gary Morris. Irvine was not struck, but Morris was shot in the foot, according to prosecutors.
Smith then took the couple's blue Ford Ranger pickup truck and led police on a pursuit on Highway 99. The chase ended when Smith struck another vehicle and ended up in a ditch near the Harney Lane exit.
There have been a litany of prior offenses in Smith's past, most of which have occurred in Stanislaus County. Among his previous convictions are first-degree burglary, petty theft and taking a vehicle without consent.
According to county court records, most cases were settled pre-trial and only one actually proceeded to trial.
Smith is scheduled to appear in court for further arraignment April 18.
Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at email@example.com.