Suspect in dancer’s dismemberment is returned to New Orleans _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Terry Speaks is escorted by Kenner Police after being extradited from New Jersey. He is a suspect in the murder of Jaren Lockhart.

Terry Speaks can represent himself against charges that he and his girlfriend stabbed a Bourbon Street dancer to death and dismembered her corpse in Kenner three years ago, a Jefferson Parish judge ruled Monday.

A jury of nine women and three men was chosen Monday to decide Speaks’ fate.

The jury, along with two male alternates, will hear opening statements Tuesday from prosecutors Doug Freese and Tommy Block, as well as Speaks, who was granted the right to act as his own attorney by 24th Judicial District Judge Steven Grefer.

Wearing a dark gray suit, paisley tie and dark-rimmed glasses, Speaks got off to a somewhat rocky start during preliminary hearings and jury selection Monday morning. Speaking in a soft drawl, he strayed on a couple of occasions into offering testimony while acting as a lawyer and was shut down on at least three occasions with quick prosecution objections that were sustained by the judge.

At one point, a prospective juror asked Speaks why he decided to represent himself — a question Grefer quickly told Speaks he could not answer, saying it was not relevant to the juror selection process.

“Could I if I wanted to?” Speaks asked.

Speaks, 42, and Margaret Sanchez, 31, are accused of stabbing Jaren Lockhart in the chest in the early morning hours of June 6, 2012. Prosecutors say they then dismembered her body and threw the pieces off the U.S. 90 bridge in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Pieces of Lockhart’s body washed up on Gulf Coast beaches in the following days.

Lockhart, the 22-year-old mother of a 3-year-old girl, was last seen on surveillance video footage leaving Temptations Gentlemen’s Club, where she worked, with Sanchez and Speaks.

Prosecutors say Sanchez and Speaks were in Temptations and Stiletto’s Cabaret looking for a dancer to leave with them for a private party. Lockhart decided to go with them, telling co-workers she needed to go “make rent.”

Sanchez will be tried separately, though no date has been set yet.

Grefer advised Speaks against acting as his own attorney, but after asking him a series of questions, he granted the request.

“You understand, from the court’s perspective, I do not think this is a good idea,” Grefer said, warning Speaks that he would be held to the same standards as a professional lawyer and that no one would go easy on him just because he’s representing himself.

Grefer made it clear that he was not granting the request because he thought Speaks’ attorneys were providing inadequate counsel.

Those attorneys, John Benz and Brad Scott, will remain seated alongside him so they can be reappointed to represent him if Speaks decides to do so. They are allowed to give him advice, as they did often during Monday’s proceedings.

Speaks’ first request was for more time to go over materials submitted by the prosecution. That was denied after Freese pointed out the information had been provided to the defense long ago.

Freese stated for the record that a defendant cannot represent himself simply to gain a tactical advantage in the courtroom. He said his objections to Speaks’ veering into testimony would come as often as necessary.

“We will not allow a single instance to go by in this case that this man does anything more than a lawyer would be allowed to do,” he said.

The day began with Grefer denying a defense motion to delay the trial in light of the discovery of the bodies of two women along Interstate 10 in recent weeks. The ruling came after brief testimony by a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office investigator, who said there were no links between the cases.

After the jurors and alternates were empaneled and sent home for the day with instructions to return for opening statements in the morning, Speaks asked the judge if he could take the Code of Criminal Procedure back to his jail cell.

Grefer allowed him to take the book after Speaks made the appropriate motion and the bailiff inspected the pages of the thick, purple book and handed it back.

The trial is expected to run throughout the week.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.