A former minor league baseball player is going to defend himself in a death penalty sentencing trial to begin Wednesday in Mesa even though his legal adviser has said it is "legal suicide."
Fabio Gomez, 34, walked into court Friday, shackled and handcuffed in jail stripes, wheeling a pushcart stacked with documents and books topped with a paperback edition of "Black’s Law Dictionary."
The Dominican Republic native, convicted two years ago of raping and murdering 36-year-old Chandler resident Joan Morane, explained in court why he would defend himself rather than use a lawyer.
"I’m doing this under my constitutional rights," Gomez said.
Lawyer Daniel Raynak, who is serving as Gomez’s advisory counsel, said it is a mistake to let Gomez defend himself, and he asked Judge James Keppel to let him take over the defense.
"This is basically the equivalent of legal suicide," said Raynak, a veteran of dozens of murder cases.
Keppel said he has found Gomez mentally competent to defend himself, and Gomez declined Raynak’s offer.
The sentencing trial will consist of the aggravation phase in which the state will try to show why Gomez should be executed and the mitigation phase in which Gomez will try to show why his life should be spared.
"He has absolutely no idea what would constitute mitigation," Raynak said.
For instance, one of Gomez’s character witnesses is a fellow inmate who is facing multiple charges of murder, Raynak said.
Prosecutors say he should be executed because the murder was committed in an "especially cruel, heinous and depraved" manner. They will take about two weeks to present their case.
On Dec. 3, 1999, Morane’s body was found in a trash bin.
She had been hit at least 18 times in the face and skull with a 10-pound dumbbell.
Gomez, who was Morane’s neighbor and who played in the Chicago Cubs minor league system until 1997, was convicted in a jury trial in March 2001.
At that time in Arizona, judges determined if someone should be put to death.
The U.S. Supreme Court has since ruled that juries must make death penalty decisions.
Arizona juries are now empaneled for the guilt and sentencing phases of capital cases, but in Gomez’s case, a new jury will be chosen for his sentencing.