County to pay for second lawyer

The Times Herald

COURTHOUSE – If accused killer Corey Jemeal Wright, charged with gunning down a young Norristown mother, has to plead for his life, he will be represented by Norristown lawyer Henry S. Hilles III.

Montgomery County Judge Thomas P. Rogers has issued an order appointing Hilles as Wright’s defense attorney for the possible penalty phase of Wright’s murder trial.

And, according to the order, the county will pick up the tab for Hilles.

Defense attorney Michael J. Diamondstein, who will represent Wright during the trial phase of murder trial, had petitioned the court for the appointment of another attorney to represent Wright, 26, of Norristown, in the possible penalty phase of the case.

Wright is charged with first- and third-degree murder, firearms violations and perjury in connection with the July 6 alleged revenge-motivated shooting death of Rose Pettis, 22, of the 200 block of East Jacoby Street, Norristown.

County Assistant District Attorney Thomas W. McGoldrick, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant District Attorney Brendan M. Campbell, has notified the court that he will be seeking the death penalty for Wright if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

The lone alternative to the death penalty is life imprisonment for a first-degree murder conviction.

Diamondstein, who was hired by the family, said in the petition he will have his hands full preparing for the trial portion of the case. The family cannot afford to hire an additional lawyer to represent Wright in the penalty phase if it gets that far, according to Diamondstein’s petition.

The American Bar Association has set detailed standards that defense attorneys must address in the penalty phase of a death-penalty case. These standards include such issues as obtaining school and military records, developing an individual’s social history and securing a psychiatric evaluation. The U.S. Supreme Court has adopted these standards.

“A lot of preparation now goes into the penalty phase and, because of the complexity, it is almost like a trial,” said county Judge William T. Nicholas, the administrative criminal judge. “That is why today you almost always see two defense attorneys in capital cases.”

Hilles earlier this year represented Rashuan M. “Shine” Black, 20, of Norristown, in the penalty phase of the case after Black was convicted of first-degree murder in last year’s shooting death and robbery of Norristown drug dealer Michael McCray. The jury returned with a sentence of life imprisonment.

Hilles, who was court-appointed in that case, received about $15,000 for his representation, according to Nicholas.

Margaret Gibbons can be reached at [email protected] or 610-272-2501 ext. 216.

By: Margaret Gibbons