KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A state appeals court ruled that a man charged in the 2002 dismemberment slayings of a teenage couple in east Tennessee must defend himself in the death penalty case after repeatedly refusing to work with defense lawyers and delaying his trial.
The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals at Knoxville in a decision filed Monday sent the case against Howard Hawk Willis back to the court at Johnson City for continued proceedings, saying he has refused to cooperate and his conduct has been "egregiously manipulative."
The state is seeking the death penalty in the killings of Adam Chrismer and Samantha Leming, both of Chickamauga, Ga. The boy's head was found in Boone Lake and his hands were found nearby. The girl's remains were found in a Johnson City rental storage unit.
Prosecutors could not be reached for comment.
Investigators have said Willis and the newlyweds met while they were living in Chickamauga, Ga., and were involved in a sex-for-cocaine relationship. Authorities think Willis killed the newlyweds at his mother's home after the three traveled to Johnson City in early October 2002.
Willis also is suspected in the killing of his 73-year-old stepfather, Samuel Thomas of Cleveland, Tenn., whose headless body turned up in the wilderness of Walker County, Ga., about the same time the other bodies were found.
Authorities have said the teens may have known something about the slaying of Thomas.
The trial has been postponed repeatedly. Psychological evaluators concluded Willis was of "average intelligence" and could help in his defense.
A judge in 2007 told a complaining Willis that he was not going to continue appointing attorneys and "you're much more likely to get the death penalty if you try to represent yourself. It is an extremely stupid thing to do."
At the time of the killings, Willis was free on $200,000 bond while he cooperated with federal prosecutors in a cocaine smuggling case in New York. Willis got an eight-year prison sentence on the drug charges in July 2003.