Alleged body dumper Daniel J. Fitzgerald gets new lawyer, trial delay expected

·3 min read

NEW PHILADELPHIA — A judge has granted the request of a man charged with dumping the body of Amber L. Sherrell to have a different lawyer defend him.

On Tuesday, Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Judge Michael Ernest appointed Richard Drake of Canton to replace public defender John Watters, II in representing Daniel J. Fitzgerald, 39.

The judge said the defendant had written letters to him complaining about Watters' representation. He said he had not heard similar complaints about Watters.

"Can't work with somebody that can't work with me," Fitzgerald said during Tuesday's pretrial conference. "He just ain't trying. He don't believe what I say. He's trash."

The Akron man has pleaded not guilty to two counts of tampering with evidence, felonies of the third degree, one count of gross abuse of a corpse, a felony of the fifth degree, and one count of failure to report knowledge of a death, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree.

More:Cekoyia Riechers pleads guilty to all charges in body-dumping case

Watters had also asked Ernest to remove him from the case. In a motion, he wrote that the defendant contacted the public defender's office on Aug. 2 "screaming at support staff and demanding a new attorney to represent him. This is the second time the Public Defender's office has received such a phone call from defendant.

"Defendant indicated that he does not feel as though he has been granted enough time to discuss this matter with the undersigned," Watters wrote. "Defendant further indicted that he does not have any trust or confidence in the undersigned as his attorney, and that he believes the undersigned is not representing him properly, but is instead 'playing games.'"

The public defender's motion said he had engaged in numerous conversations with the defendant and the prosecution, and had provided Fitzgerald with police reports and other documents.

In court, Watters told Ernest that any communications that still exist with Fitzgerald are antagonistic.

Fitzgerald had been scheduled for a jury trial Aug. 17. Ernest said a new date will probably have to be set four to six weeks in the future to give the new defense attorney time to prepare.

The defendant told the judge that he shouldn't even be in court.

"You have been charged," Ernest told him. "Any attorney that I appoint just can't make the indictment disappear because you feel you've been wrongly charged. That isn't Mr. Watters' fault."

Fitzgerald said there was more evidence to the case, such as his whereabouts.

"You will have the opportunity at a jury trial to challenge the state's evidence ,,, but also, if you choose, to set forth evidence of your own," Ernest said.

According to the Tuscarawas County Sheriff's Office, Fitzgerald and codefendant Cekoyia M. Riechers, 26, dumped Sherrell's body along White Bridge Road in Goshen Township in the early morning hours of Oct. 26, three days after she died from an overdose.

Sheriff's Detective Lt. Adam Fisher said Sherrell, 38, died while in the company of Riechers at Riechers' home at 39 S. Johnson Ave. in Dover. Riechers called Fitzgerald, her boyfriend, as the overdose was occurring, according to Fisher. Fitzgerald drove to Riechers' house in Dover to help her deal with the body, Fisher said.

Riechers is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 23 on three counts of tampering with evidence, gross abuse of a corpse and failure to report knowledge of a death.

Fitzgerald is being held on $75,000 bond.

Tuesday's hearing was delayed while the court waited for Fitzgerald to be transported from the county jail. He was initially expected to appear by video link, but exercised his right to appear in court in person.

Reach Nancy at 330-364-8402 or nancy.molnar@timesreporter.com.

On Twitter: @nmolnarTR

This article originally appeared on The Times-Reporter: Alleged body dumper Daniel J. Fitzgerald gets new lawyer