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Disqualify attorney, prosecutor asks judge



The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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Lucas County prosecutors have asked a judge to disqualify the defense attorney appointed in a murder case, alleging that Ronnie Wingate must be removed to "uphold ethical conduct in this case."

Mr. Wingate represents Robert Wilson, who is charged in the 1993 murder of Brenda Navarre.

According to a motion filed late Thursday by Assistant Prosecutor Michael Loisel, Mr. Wingate created a conflict of interest by representing Wilson and taking on the role as adviser to the prosecution's key witness, Wilson's wife, Janet.

Specifically, the motion states that Mr. Wingate violated a court order not to contact Mrs. Wilson and that he made arrangements for her to be released from jail after she was arrested on an obstructing justice charge.

The motion accuses Mr. Wingate of creating "an ethical dilemma for himself" and of making himself a witness in the case when he attempted to have Mrs. Wilson sign an affidavit saying that her earlier accusations against her husband were untrue.

"It is a distinct probability that Mr. Wingate will be called to testify in the case against Robert Wilson about his attempts to hinder the prosecution of his client by having the witness sign a false affidavit and his attempt to garner favor with the state's witness by having her released from jail," the motion said.

"This conduct could ultimately subject Attorney Wingate to criminal prosecution as well."

Mr. Wingate dismissed the allegations as untrue.

"To me, they are nothing more than a distortion of the truth," he said of the allegations.

He declined further comment on the motion to remove him as Wilson's attorney.

The motion may be taken up as early as Monday at a scheduled hearing in front of Judge Charles Doneghy.

Wilson, 51, who is serving a 13-year prison sentence on unrelated convictions, was indicted in October for murder in the Dec. 1, 1993, attack on Ms. Navarre.

The 33-year-old Toledo woman was found face down on the sidewalk in the 1200 block of Paxton Street after she had been beaten and hit on the head with a 100-pound boulder. She died early the next day.

Investigators said they were able to indict Wilson more than a decade after Ms. Navarre's death when witnesses came forward and offered new information.

At a May 7 hearing before Judge Doneghy, Mrs. Wilson's attorney, Francis Frey, said his client no longer wished to testify at Wilson's trial.

Mr. Frey also said he advised her not to talk to anyone from either the defense or the state, according to transcripts of the hearing.

Judge Doneghy then issued a no-contact order for both the defense and law enforcement.

Later that day, Mrs. Wilson was arrested for obstructing justice for helping to destroy evidence. She has been arraigned on the charge and is scheduled to appear in Lucas County Common Pleas Court July 10.

According to Toledo Municipal Court records, Mrs. Wilson told police she drove her husband to different locations, where he burned bloody clothing and threw other articles of clothing off a bridge.

In the motion filed Thursday, prosecutors said Mrs. Wilson was released from jail by Toledo Municipal Judge C. Allen McConnell, who was contacted by Mr. Wingate.

"On May 7th, 2007, the State of Ohio issued a warrant for the arrest of Janet Wilson. She was taken into custody around 4:45 p.m.," the motion said.

"Later that evening, attorney Ronald L. Wingate blatantly violated the trial court's order and acted on behalf of Janet Wilson and went about having her released from jail," the motion said.

County Prosecutor Julia Bates said an attorney with conflicting interests "is a problem."

Saying the motion speaks for itself, Mrs. Bates said the facts and evidence of the case show Mr. Wingate did not follow the judge's orders. "The court needs to do something about it, and that's what we hope will happen," she said.

Although Mr. Wingate was not appointed to represent Mrs. Wilson, "it seems to me that this has been the case," the prosecutor said.

Contact Erica Blake at:

or 419-213-2134.

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