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Surber seeks to represent himself in murder trial

October 27, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A Winchester, Va., man charged in the June stabbing death of a Martinsburg woman in her home has asked to represent himself in Berkeley County Circuit Court, according to a letter filed Oct. 1 in Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine's office.

Donald B. Surber Jr., 37, is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning on charges that include murder and kidnapping in the death of Katherine Nicole Sharp, who West Virginia State Police said was found dead in her home June 15.

In the handwritten letter to 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes, Surber first thanked the judge for taking time out from his busy day to read the letter and address his concerns. He then asked Wilkes to "please excuse my handwriting because I am still learning how to write left handed."

"Your honor the reason I am writing this letter is because I wish to be my own lawyer in this murder trial," Surber wrote. "I have been trying since day one to get in front of your court to let you know this, but haven't been able to, due to the fact both sides of this case have been in court to talk for me. Sir, I am fit to be my own lawyer and if you give me a chance to appear before you in person, you will see this for yourself."

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Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Jean Games-Neely said Tuesday she was waiting for the report on a competency evaluation of Surber.

"It's the first time it has taken this long," Games-Neely said of the court-ordered assessment.

"I think this report is way overdue and I feel it's a plot to keep it delayed until I am indicted (this month) so I can not have a pre-trial hearing," wrote Surber, who added that he did not want Deborah A. Lawson or John Adams, of the public defender's office, to represent him any longer.

Games-Neely, who could not explain why she hadn't received the report from an expert in Morgantown, W.Va., does not expect Wilkes to make a decision on Surber's request until the competency report is in hand.

Lawson could not be reached for comment, and Adams deferred comment to Lawson, the chief public defender.

Surber, who remains at Tygart Valley Regional Jail in Belington, W.Va., had an on-again-off-again relationship with Sharp, authorities have said.

Police allege that he held Sharp hostage during a standoff at her home at 10 Raider Lane in the Ridgefield subdivision off W.Va. 9 west of Martinsburg on June 14 and 15.

A warrant charging Surber with murder said Sharp was killed June 14. The standoff ended on the afternoon of June 15, court records state.

After his arrest, Surber attempted suicide by cutting his wrists in Eastern Regional Jail, and he later tried to escape police guards after being treated for his wounds at City Hospital in Martinsburg, according to published reports.

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