SNOW HILL — A Worcester County man found guilty of second-degree murder in 2008 will not be granted a new trial after the state’s highest court last week ruled the Circuit Court did not err in denying his alleged last-minute request to replace the public defender representing him in his original trial.
Kendall Irin Northam, now 23, of Pocomoke, was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree assault in September 2008 for his role in the beating death of Judy Wojcik in an apparent sex for drugs deal gone wrong in a rural area near Pocomoke in January 2008. Northam was later sentenced to 30 years in prison at a sentencing hearing in December 2008, but quickly appealed the conviction on a variety of issues.
Last April, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals heard arguments in Northam’s ruled favorably on Northam’s appeal, reversing the conviction from his September 2008 trial in Worcester County Circuit Court, however, no decision was made at the time whether or not to retry the case. The state then asked the Court of Appeals, the highest court in Maryland, to review the lower appeals court’s decision, seeking clarification on a variety of issues, not the least of which was Northam’s alleged last ditch effort to replace public defender Burton Anderson before his trial in 2008.
Last week, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower appeals court’s decision on Northam’s plea for a new attorney, essentially denying the convicted killer a shot at a new trial, on that point only. However, the high court ordered Northam’s case be remanded to the Court of Special Appeals for a review of his other appellant issues.
Northam’s appeal was based on a variety of issues, not the least of which was the trial court’s alleged error in not allowing the suspect to change lawyers prior to his trial in September 2008. According to the appeal, Northam first expressed a desire to discharge his public defender in February 2008 in the form of two letters to the court stating he wished to drop his counsel and have another assigned to his case.
The Worcester County Circuit Court judge acknowledged Northam’s request for a new attorney in March 2008, but “never explicitly ruled on it,” according to the appeal. Instead, the judge told Northam to be patient because it was a long process and his appointed public defender would have plenty of time to discuss his defense, according to the appeal.
Months passed as Northam’s trial neared, but his continued requests for new counsel fell on deaf ears, according to the appeal. In the days leading up to the trial, Northam submitted a motion for a change of venue, which also included a request for new counsel. On September 11, 2008, Judge Thomas Groton, who was now presiding over the case, denied the motion for a change of venue with a written order, but failed to address Northam’s request for new counsel.
In its opinion released last week, the Court of Appeals ruled neither the Circuit Court judge nor Anderson had failed Northam by not granting his request for the new attorney.
“If, either at the conclusion of the September 24, 2008 pretrial hearing, or prior to the commencement of trial on the following day, the respondent requested that Mr. Anderson arrange for him to be represented by another defense counsel, Mr. Anderson would have been obligated to notify Judge Groton that the respondent had made such a request,” the opinion reads. “As Judge Groton was not so notified, the respondent is not entitled to a new trial on the ground he was not permitted to explain the reasons for requesting permission to discharge Mr. Anderson.”
A Worcester County grand jury indicted Northam and his co-defendants, Shawn Treherne, 23, of Bowie, Md., and David K. Justice, 20, of Pocomoke, charging them with first-degree murder and other charges related to the beating death of Wojcik, whose body was found by a trapper in a rural area near Pocomoke.
Early on in the investigation, detectives identified Treherne and Northam as suspects, but it was not until later that they started to believe Justice was involved. Justice was later arrested and charged for his role in the beating death of Wojcik. In his statement included in the appeal, Northam said Treherne and Justice were the aggressors in the attack and that he was essentially just along for the ride in the sex for drugs and money case.
However, according to court records, a concerned witness told detectives he allegedly spoke to Northam shortly after the murder was reported to the police and that Northam said himself, Treherne and another man picked up Wojcik and drove her to a wooded area where she was to perform sex acts for money and drugs. Northam allegedly told the witness a disagreement arose for some reason at which time they beat and kicked Wojcik and left her in the wooded area. Northam later admitted he was present during the fatal attack on Wojcik but downplayed his participation, claiming he never wanted to have sex with the victim, nor was he interested in the drugs in the transaction.