ROME — The man who the federal government has charged with bilking more than 1,600 churches out of more than $8 million had a surprise for U.S. District Court on Monday, the day his trial was to begin.
Abraham Kennard, 46, told his attorney, Michael Trost, that he no longer required his services and notified federal Judge Harold Murphy of the same only minutes before jury selection was to begin.
Kennard’s surprise move caused jury selection to be delayed several hours, until a 15-person panel was seated barely in time for the jurors to leave in daylight.
Kennard is charged with 132 counts ranging from money laundering to mail fraud to income tax evasion.
If convicted, he could receive several hundred years in jail and be fined millions of dollars.
Murphy called a special hearing to listen to Kennard’s plea to allow him to defend himself.
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“With my being a man of God,” Kennard explained to the judge, “I believe I need to be able to take this position. I believe God is with me.”
Murphy explained some of the nuances of the judicial system and asked Kennard repeatedly if he felt he was qualified to do this. “Are you in good physical health?” Murphy asked. “Are you in good mental health?”
The judge said he was being careful because of what he had heard of Kennard’s behavior during his arraignment last year.
“I hear you informed the judge there were several angels hanging around the courtroom,” Murphy said. “Are there any angels here today?”
“I always have two with me,” Kennard replied.
“You would be much, much, much better off, you would have a much better chance of this coming out as you want it to, to let Mr. Trost be your attorney,” Murphy told Kennard. “I have appointed Mr. Trost for you because he is one of the best lawyers in the state. I’m sad to see you make this decision.
“But the Constitution of the United States guarantees any citizen the right to defend himself,” Murphy concluded. “But your judgment is tainted by the decision you’ve made today.”
The judge appointed Trost, who had been working on Kennard’s defense for 10 months, as Kennard’s stand-by counsel.
Trost said he was not surprised by Kennard’s decision: “I had heard rumblings of this off and on before.”
Trost said he was ready to go to trial with the defense he had prepared.
When asked whether Kennard, who claims to have three honorary doctorate degrees and a high school education, can put up a good defense, Trost asked: “What do you think?
“He’s been privy to some of my ideas,” Trost said. “I think he probably has some idea.”
Trost handled much of the jury selection as Kennard sat by without comment.
The 15-person jury is composed of 10 men and five women.
Kennard will face trial along with two co-defendants — brother LaBoyce Kennard and Jannie Trammel — both accused of being accomplices.
The trial is expected to begin today with opening comments from Assistant U.S. Attorney David McClernan and co-counsel Russell Phillips.
Dalton lawyer R. Scott Cunningham also is charged in the scheme but will have his trial at a later date.