In an unusual gesture, the man accused of killing Mobile Police Officer Sean Tuder was led into court for his arraignment in a pair of handcuffs engraved with the officer’s last name.
Marco Perez, 19, is accused of shooting and killing Tuder after the two men had a confrontation at the Peach Place Inn apartment complex Jan. 20. Perez had been on the run from multiple warrants at the time, and police say Tuder was investigating a tip regarding his whereabouts.
Appearing with his court-appointed attorneys, Dennis Knizley and Jason Darley, Perez pleaded not guilty to a single charge of capital murder, though he has yet to be arraigned on several other lesser offenses and an unrelated gun charge in federal court.
A preliminary hearing in Perez’ case has been scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 3:30 p.m.
Even for such a high-profile crime, the initial arraignment would have been fairly procedural were it not for the handcuffs Perez was restrained with in the courtroom.
Knizley told Circuit Judge Ben Brooks he wanted to ensure the court record showed that Perez was placed into handcuffs bearing the name of the man he’s accused of killing.
As someone who has worked as a defense attorney in Mobile for decades, Knizley told Lagniappe he’s never seen anything like it in a case he’s handled before.
“It’s quite unusual, and it’s not necessary,” Knizley told reporters after the hearing. “Let’s just treat everyone like you would anyone else accused of an offense.”
Knizley also noted that before the arraignment, a TV news station reported on the plan to make Perez wear the handcuffs, which are believed to have been Tuder’s personal set. He said the plan could be relevant if the defense requests a change of venue for the trial due to the amount of local media coverage Tuder’s death and Perez’s prosecution have received.
Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich, who is prosecuting the case along with Assistant DA Jennifer Wright, said her office had nothing to do with the selection of handcuffs and did not take a firm position for or against them.
The defense plans to file a motion to have them removed and not used in the future, which should force the state to take a firm position on whether such a display is appropriate. Asked about the appearance of impartiality, Rich told reporters “everything in these proceedings will be fair, adding that prosecutors would ensure Perez’s rights were respected and upheld.
Lori Myles, spokesperson for the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, later confirmed the handcuffs inscribed with Tuder’s name were indeed put on Perez at the Mobile County Metro Jail. But Myles said in doing so, jail staff was simply honoring a request by the Mobile Police Department.
Calls and emails to MPD’s leadership about the decision have so far gone unanswered.
Back in the courtroom, Rich rejected Knizley’s suggestion that the engraved handcuffs might somehow affect media coverage or wind up as a factor when considering a change of venue. She said Knizley’s raising the issue during the hearing probably caused more media attention than would have been given otherwise.
In response, Knizley said he only mentioned the handcuffs so there’d be a record of the incident.
“Whether someone thinks it’s fair or not, that’s up to the person forming the opinion. We’re not making that judgment,” Knizley said. “We’re only preserving the record as to how it may impact my client legally because that’s the only way the court gets to know about that and the only way any appellate court would get to know about it in the future.”
Aside from the handcuffs, not much new information about the incident was revealed at the arraignment Monday. Police previously said they expected Perez to plead not guilty, and Rich said her office has still not decided whether it will seek the death penalty against Perez.
However, Rich did address lingering questions about other persons possibly being charged in connection to Tuder’s death.
As Lagniappe has reported, Perez had been on the run from local authorities for several days leading up to Tuder’s death, and he and his mother have already been charged for falsely reporting to police that Perez had been kidnapped and possibly killed during that time.
Surveillance video has also been released from a residence near a home Perez was known to frequent showing him and another younger male narrowly escaping police just days before the fatal confrontation with Tuder occurred. Police have also said Perez was visiting someone at the Peach Place Inn at the time, but have declined to say who.
“Just hanging out with somebody doesn’t result in criminal charges,” Rich said. “We certainly are looking at all the facts and circumstances surrounding the people that were with Perez leading up to the incident, but just because you’re hanging out with someone doesn’t mean that you can be charged for hindering an investigation or harboring a fugitive.”