Orlando Sentinel, Mar. 5, 2003
By Sherri M. Owens, Sentinel Staff Writer
TAVARES — If his lawyers had sketched out a plan to tell the jury about his mental defects and the hallucinogenic drugs he had taken, maybe “vampire cult” leader Roderick Ferrell wouldn’t be in prison for life for the deaths of Richard and Ruth Wendorf.
That’s what Ferrell is arguing in a motion that claims his lawyers didn’t prepare an adequate defense for him. He also says they coerced him to plead guilty to a murder charge by providing him with misinformation.
He wants his guilty plea thrown out, and he wants a new trial.
“[Ferrell’s] quest to show that his actions were slightly less horrific because they were not coldly premeditated was defeated by his own counsel,” reads the handwritten motion he filed on his own behalf.
In a hearing Tuesday, Circuit Judge T. Michael Johnson agreed to allow Assistant State Attorney Rock E. Hooker to examine information shared between Ferrell and his lawyers, Candace Hawthorne and William Lackay. Normally, such communication is kept confidential, but Hooker said he needs the information to evaluate Ferrell’s claims.
Ferrell represented himself during the hearing and said little, aside from single-word responses to the judge’s questions. He glared at Hawthorne and Lackay, who were seated on the back row of the courtroom.
Lackay offered no comment about Ferrell’s complaints. Hawthorne said, “I don’t think he will be able to succeed with what he’s doing, but he is entitled to a hearing.”
The two represented Ferrell after the Wendorfs were found beaten to death in their Eustis home in November 1996. First-degree murder warrants were issued for five teenagers authorities said were linked to a blood-drinking vampire cult. Among them was Ferrell, 16 at the time, who was said to be the leader.
As opening statements began in his 1998 trial, Ferrell pleaded guilty to the murder charge. He was originally sentenced to death, but that sentence was later overturned because of his age. He was sentenced to life in prison instead.
Now Ferrell says his guilty plea was not freely given.
In his motion, he says his lawyers told him they could not help him if he insisted on going to trial. He says they told him they had no defense to present at his trial and that if he pleaded guilty, he could receive a life sentence, which equates to 40 years, meaning he would get out of prison someday.
Ferrell says he was misled.
In addition, the motion says the lawyers knew he had mental defects — three expert witnesses concurred on a diagnosis of Schizotypal Personality Disorder — and that he used hallucinogenic drugs, but they did not prepare a defense that would show these factors as major contributors to the crime.
“Counsel failed to follow up,” his motion says.
Ferrell is convinced that if his lawyers had handled things differently, he would not have been convicted of first-degree murder.
“He would have proceeded to trial and the outcome of the proceedings would have been different,” he wrote.