Arguments Regarding Trial Postponement and Right to Counsel in Homicide Case

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On Feb. 23, D.C Superior Court Judge Robert Okun heard arguments in relation to trial postponement and a change of counsel in a homicide case.

Lavaughn Barnes, 32, is charged with premeditated first-degree murder while armed in connection with the death of Abdul Arias-Lopez, 59, that occurred on Nov. 4, 2022 on the 1300 block of Kearny Street, NE. Arias-Lopez’s dismembered body was recovered in Barnes’ backyard on Feb. 3, 2023. 

Jason Tulley, Barnes’ defense attorney, began by addressing his request to continue the trial from January 2025 to February 2026. He expressed concerns that he would be removed as counsel for this case due to conflicts, and stated concerns over Barnes’ mental health. 

The prosecution responded to his request for an extension, stating that “the government suffers” the most from the extension. The prosecution referenced how the extension will affect their ability to stay in contact with witnesses and other evidence needed for trial.

The prosecution says the defendant has “no rights to a specific court counsel”, as Tully is a member of the Public Defender Service (PDS) and not counsel paid for by the defendant.

The defense cited numerous cases on the attorney-client relationship, arguing that breaking the relationship would compromise Barnes’ representation. 

The prosecution stated that “rich people get things that poor people don’t”, and that it is a “fact of life”, in reference to whether Barnes could retain Tulley in specific as his counsel. The defense found these statements “offensive”. 

The judge stated that the right to counsel is “not an absolute right”, whether it is a public defender or a private lawyer. 

Tulley stated that his request for a continuance came from leave issues and a packed schedule throughout next year.   

According to Judge Okun, Barnes directly stated he wishes to retain Tulley as his legal counsel, even if the trial is continued into 2026. 

Barnes’ defense also brought up issues regarding his jail conditions. Tulley stated that the northwest wing of the DC Jail has experienced “five stabbings in two weeks”, along with substance-related issues. The judge recommended that Tulley make a formal request to the jail for Barnes to be relocated.

A status hearing is set for April 19.

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