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Suspect in Gurnee murder wants to be his own lawyer

Zervont S. Thomas

Zervont S. Thomas

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Updated: January 22, 2013 6:26AM

The Waukegan man accused of stabbing one man to death and injuring a 17-year-old in Gurnee last year is considering acting as his own attorney.

Zervont Thomas, 20, is charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder for the death of Stefan Metel, 33, of Round Lake, and for stabbing a 17-year-old male passenger in front of a Gurnee car dealership in August 2011.

He was before Lake County Circuit Judge John Phillips on Thursday because he had requested to fire his attorney, John Murphy, and act as his own lawyer.

“I want to do this. I’m fighting for my life. I feel like I can do it better than he (Murphy) can,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he is a high school graduate with no legal training. He said Murphy visits him in jail to update him on the case every month and a half or so.

“I know my case. I know everything, so I feel like if I go with that I’m thinking about, the judge or jury will see it my way and picture what I’m talking about,” Thomas said.

Murphy, an attorney since 1997, knows how to subpoena witnesses, cross-examine witnesses for the state, present a defense, argue a case and file pretrial motions, Phillips told Thomas. Murphy has tried hundreds of cases during his career as an assistant public defender and as a private defense attorney, Phillips told Thomas.

“I’m not going to be able to help you,” Phillips said. “You may make very bad tactical decisions at trial because you aren’t going to know the consequences of your decisions. You can’t call for a time-out or do-over ... on the eve of trial, if you suddenly decide ... you want an attorney, in all likelihood, I’m not going to let that happen and you will be stuck.”

Phillips reminded Thomas that he can spend 20 to 60 years in prison for the first-degree murder charge, six to 30 years for the attempted murder charge, and 10 to 30 years in prison for the armed violence charge.

Thomas affirmed that he understood what would be expected of him should he go through with representing himself. Phillips also cautioned him that he would not be able to interview witnesses outside of the jail or get extra phone calls in jail to handle his case. Thomas affirmed that he understood this, too,

“You’re making a very risky, a very perhaps unwise decision if you do this,” Phillips said.

He is giving Thomas until Dec. 28 to decide if he will represent himself. Thomas remains in custody at Lake County Jail in lieu of $5 million bond.

Authorities said Thomas met Metel while they were both in custody in the jail. On the date of the stabbings, Thomas was out on bond for a pending burglary case when Metel, with a teenage passenger, picked him up in his vehicle.

Metel said he was going to stop at his home for gas money before dropping him off, enraging Thomas, authorities said. Thomas is alleged to have stabbed Metel seven times and then stabbed the teenager twice.

After he was stabbed, Metel’s Jeep continued to roll down Grand Avenue and eventually game to a stop near the car dealership on Grand Avenue. The stabbing victim staggered into the dealership, was able to get help and Thomas was apprehended.

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