PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — A Springfield man is hoping a federal judge will step in after the Bay County judicial system failed to bring his case to trial in four years and two months.
“I’m living a nightmare I wouldn’t have believed,” said 69-year-old Daniel West during an interview at the Bay County Jail.
West was charged with aggravated battery on Dec. 20, 2016. He was accused of attacking a woman while holding a handgun. The woman came to his house and he allegedly pointed the gun at her and struck her with it. He also allegedly fired the gun at her but she was not struck by a bullet. If found guilty, West faces 20 years in prison under Florida’s 10/20/Life law.
West said she was a thief and he never attacked her. But when he ran her off she swore that she was going to get him arrested. He said he has never been charged with a felony before.
He added that the medical evidence in the case doesn’t back up the victim but prosecutors won’t let it go and won’t take it to trial.
“I thought everybody was entitled to a trial. I thought everybody was entitled to rights,” West said. “I mean due process. That’s been denied. That’s been denied.”
While he was in and out of jail after being initially arrested West is currently being held without bond after he failed to appear at a court hearing more than 680 days ago.
“They’re gonna hold me here till I die,” he said.
Even if bond were readministered it is unclear if West could afford it. He said before he was arrested he lived on a $500 a month disability check.
Although they can’t speak about an active case, local attorneys who reviewed the situation say 69-year-old Daniel West shares at least some of the blame for causing his aggravated battery case to languish.
Whether he intended to or not, West succeeded in grinding the process to a crawl by repeatedly firing the attorneys appointed to him.
“I’m assigned a name and that’s it,” he said. “And I walk into court and they tell me, ‘Mr. West your attorney is here.’ But no they don’t talk to me at all.”
West said no one wants to actually represent him.
“They don’t give me no excuse, they don’t consult with me,” he said. “Look, look. They bring me in there and they talk amongst themselves and they set another court appearance for three or six months. Then when it gets to that it’s totally a different thing and then another three or six months. I’ve been flipped and flipped and flipped and this is what is going on.”
West has also run afoul of local judges. In one letter written from jail, West accused the current judge in his case and his prosecutor of plotting to kill him.
During a Stand Your Ground hearing in August of 2018 West had a heated exchange with Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet. West accused his attorney of being a part of the Ku Klux Klan and told Overstreet he was running a “Kangaroo Court.”
After multiple warnings, Overstreet ordered West held in contempt and sentenced him to 180 days in jail.
Another factor in West’s long road to trial is the Coronavirus pandemic. Almost no case has gone to trial in Bay County for nearly a year.
West’s mental health was also a factor. At one point a competency hearing was ordered. West said it took a year before he was seen by a mental health professional who deemed that he was, indeed, competent to stand trial.
Local attorneys say that when a defendant routinely has a conflict with their defense counsel sooner or later the judge in the case will end the issue and move the case to trial. The judge does this by preventing the defendant from removing his attorney and forcing the case to move forward. That may have been what happened in this case although West says it was more sinister than it appeared.
He claims one judge in his case said, ‘I’m gonna hold you until you take a deal or you die.’
West didn’t take that for a final answer. He has filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The legal maneuver comes from the middle ages and is essentially a demand for a judge to rule on whether or not someone is being illegally held by the authorities.
“I am tired of being in jail. Please let’s put a stop to this mess. I am 70-years-old and I want to be with my family,” he wrote. “I want to have a jury trial or be release(d) from jail, as soon as possible.”
In jail, as the interview ended, West’s plea was urgent.
“I’m being held prisoner. I’m being held prisoner,” he said. “I got a biased judge and a lawyer that’s not representing me.”