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Accused bank robber caught outside of Wash. Co. Circuit Court judge's home fires lawyer

July 18, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Charles Benjamin McNeal
Submitted photo

An accused bank robber who was caught outside the home of a Washington County Circuit Court judge was scheduled to begin a two-day jury trial Thursday, but was granted a delay after being allowed to fire his attorney.

Charles Benjamin McNeal, 28, told visiting Allegany Circuit Court Judge Gary Leasure that he wanted to fire attorney Bernard W. Semler II and needed another six months to hire a new lawyer and prepare for trial.

“His defense for me has been ineffective and inadequate,” McNeal said of Semler during Thursday’s hearing.

Leasure said he was granting the continuance because he accepted Semler’s characterization of his relationship with McNeal as “contentious and argumentative.”

He warned McNeal that the postponement might not be for six months, because his trial could be rescheduled within two or three months.

McNeal of Chambersburg, Pa., is charged with the Sept. 14, 2012, robbery of the M&T Bank branch at 13409 Pennsylvania Ave. in Hagerstown, according to charging documents.

A man entered the bank and handed a teller a note instructing her to “stay calm” and put money in an envelope, the documents said.

Following the robbery, a resident of the Fountain Head area contacted police after a shirtless man entered his house and asked for a glass of water and to lie down, the documents said.

The resident told the man to leave his house. Shortly thereafter, officers were checking the area when Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. waved them over to his house and told them the man was on his back porch, the documents said.

McNeal also is asking for expert witnesses, including a voice analyst, a DNA specialist, a forensic scientist and a private investigator, Assistant State’s Attorney Christopher McCormack said during the hearing.

Semler was a panel attorney, or a private attorney appointed by the state Public Defender’s Office to represent McNeal.

Leasure advised McNeal that he probably would not get another court-appointed attorney and would have to hire legal counsel — or represent himself.

“I have a lot of family ties” in Chambersburg and Hagerstown who could help him hire an attorney, McNeal told Leasure.

“If I have to go forward pro se (without counsel), at least I’ll have my experts,” McNeal told Leasure.

“The tortured history of this case ... shows it’s a delaying tactic,” McCormack told Leasure of the request for a postponement.

“I want a trial probably more than the prosecution does ... but I want a fair trial,” McNeal said.

Leasure noted that three judges — including Long — had recused themselves from the case.

At an evidence suppression hearing before Judge Daniel P. Dwyer, McNeal said he would be “more comfortable” having his case heard before a judge from outside Washington County.

In June, another visiting judge denied McNeal’s motion to suppress eyewitness’s identifications of him.

Another Chambersburg man, 32-year-old Rolando Arnez Lacy, is also awaiting trial in the robbery, according to court records.

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