Capital murder suspect's request for new judge denied - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Capital murder suspect's request for new judge denied

James Calvert files motion for new judge. (Photo Source: KLTV Staff.) James Calvert files motion for new judge. (Photo Source: KLTV Staff.)
James Calvert is escorted into court by officials on Aug. 21. (Source: KLTV) James Calvert is escorted into court by officials on Aug. 21. (Source: KLTV)
SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - A Tyler man accused of killing his ex-wife and kidnapping their son was denied a request for a new judge in his upcoming trial Friday. Judge Mary Murphy said she should deny James Calvert's request to recuse District Court Judge Jack Skeen Jr. based on timeliness, but will hear his argument and make a final decision at the conclusion of the hearing. Calvert, 34, is charged with capital murder.

Calvert argued for dismissal of his judge on grounds of bias. He alleged in his paperwork that the judge was biased and had a "blatant dislike," for him. 

"You're telling me you were aware of it in November 2012. You had counsel for at least a year and a half before representing yourself," Murphy said, adding that she would allow Calvert to present evidence, but that his motion would still be denied based on timeliness.

Other matters pertaining to the trial could not be addressed during the hearing because the motion for a new judge took priority. 

According to investigators, Calvert shot and killed ex-wife, Jelena Radovanovic Sriraman, 30, shortly after noon on Oct. 31, 2012, in the 3300 block of Bain Place. He then fled with their 4-year-old son, Lucas, according to police. Sriraman was Calvert's third wife. They were married in 2004 and divorced in 2009.

The shooting and subsequent Amber Alert issued to help find Lucas led to a day-long search for the suspect and his son. Less than 12 hours later, an officer saw the suspect vehicle on Interstate 20 in West Monroe, LA, according to police.

West Monroe Police said he led them on a short chase before officers barricaded him in on Tyler Drive in West Monroe, LA, at around midnight on Oct. 31. 

Calvert's trial was scheduled to begin in October 2014. When making appearances for the new judge, Calvert referred to himself as capital murder defendant despite writing a complaint in his motion that being called a "capital murder defendant" showed bias and was improper.

In court Friday, Judge Murphy asked Calvert to explain when he first detected the bias that prompted his motion for recusal and why he did not immediately file the motion. Calvert said he first detected the bias in November 2012 but has not had time to file his recusal motion.

The State objected on grounds of timeliness. Calvert said it is "more than timely" because it's still ten days from trial.

Murphy asked Calvert if his motions are based on anything other than the court's proceedings in this case. He said he didn't think so.

Calvert went on to say, "A judge must be absolutely impartial."

Murphy replied that she was aware of the standard. Calvert said Judge Skeen is the opposite of impartial because he used to be the district attorney and therefore always sides with the state. Murphy told Calvert he must present evidence of his claim.

"I understand it's difficult to represent yourself," Judge Murphy said. She again explained that a motion to recuse must be filed immediately.

Calvert had asked the judge for 2-3 minutes to prepare his argument as review The State's response to his motion. He also asked the Judge to exclude news media cameras from all court hearings as outlined in a restrictive and protective order.

Murphy explained to Calvert that news cameras are allowed in the courtroom if the judge has signed an order allowing them. The court coordinator dug through records and found a written request for media coverage from June of 2013. Murphy ruled that the media request was only valid for the June 2013 hearing and ordered news media to turn all cameras off.

Calvert called his standby council, Jason Cassel, as a witness.

He asked Cassel if he felt that Judge Skeen had inappropriately denied Calvert access to discovery that had been provided. Cassel said didn't feel that Skeen was being biased or prejudicial toward Calvert and his requests for evidence. He testified that Calvert could not have some of the evidence, such as pictures and other data that would be considered contraband in the jail.

Cassel explained to Calvert that he was trying to answer in ways that would help Calvert accomplish what he's trying to do without waiving the attorney-client privilege.

Calvert asked Cassel, "Do you believe that the judge is biased against me in any manner?"

"No. Maybe frustrated but that is just a personal observation," Cassel said. He told him that he does believe Calvert can receive a fair, impartial trial in Skeen's court but said that he believes Skeen is more patient that he was five years ago.

Calvert asked Cassel why he and the first chair attorney don't sit by him during hearings. Cassel responded, "You asked us not to sit by you."

When Calvert asked him if there was animosity between them he said, "I don't have any animosity toward you. I'm a little frustrated with you. James, I'm trying to help you. You don't get all of the rulings you want but that's part of trying cases."

Calvert also argued that Skeen showed bias by allowing the state to call him "the capital murder defendant."

When the hearing began, he introduced himself as, "the capital murder defendant," but said he that was different because he is allowed to call himself what he wants. Cassel said Calvert being called "the capital murder defendant," was a factual statement and not a bias.

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