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Ng Fumbles Way to Delay in Debut as Own Attorney

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seeming unprepared and a bit helpless at times, a man accused of mass murder made his debut as his own attorney in Orange County Superior Court on Wednesday, receiving several scoldings from the judge for not following procedures.

“If you want to be your own attorney, you have to play by the rules,” Judge John J. Ryan told defendant Charles Ng. Later, when Ng wondered aloud what he should do, the judge said, “I’m not a lawyer. I’m not allowed to give you advice.”

Still, after complaining about bad eyeglasses, lack of telephone access and trouble getting his case files, Ng managed to win a one-month delay on a pretrial hearing in which he will argue that the charges should be dismissed.

“I tried to get ready,” Ng said to the judge. “Just so many things [are] happening that hamper it.”

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Ryan ruled on May 15 that Ng could act as his own attorney, reversing a decision he made less than a month before. Ng said he does not like nor trust public defenders William G. Kelley and James Merwin, who had been assigned to help him fight charges that he tortured and murdered 12 people in the mid-1980s.

The judge on Wednesday refused Ng’s motion to dismiss Kelley and Merwin. They have been ordered not only to act as advisory counsel to Ng, but to continue preparing for the case in the event that they must step in at some point.

Ng complained that their continued involvement has made it difficult for him to interview witnesses who already have talked to them. Kelley, who is unhappy with his dual appointment, told the judge that he was “puzzled” by his role as a “standby” attorney.

“I have motions to file, but I’m sort of just sitting there,” he said.

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Prosecutors allege that Ng, 37, and Leonard Lake committed the murders on Lake’s property is Calaveras County in the Sierra foothills more than a decade ago. Lake later committed suicide, and Ng fled to Canada. He was captured but waged a six-year battle against extradition before he was returned to California in 1991. Three years later, the case was moved from Calaveras County to Orange County because of extensive publicity.

Ng’s trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 1, but the latest pretrial delay visibly upset the mother of one victim.

“I’m heartbroken, disappointed and sickened, but not surprised,” said Lola Stapley of Garden Grove, who lost her 26-year-old son, Scott. Ng “doesn’t believe in following the rules. He never has, and he never will.”

Stapley has waited more than a dozen years for Ng to be brought to trial, enduring numerous legal delays. Despite years of setbacks, she said she has faith in Ryan, a respected judge who has presided over many high-profile trials.

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“He’s very capable, he’s very honest and I’m sure he will be the one who will finally bring this to a close,” she said.


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