DES MOINES, Iowa – A former stripper convicted of killing her client at his home in 1999 is seeking a new trial, claiming her attorney had been drinking before jury selection.
Andrea Morris, 31, of Lincoln, Neb., was convicted of first-degree murder last year in the stabbing death of 43-year-old Patrick McRae, an Iowa Public Television producer. She was arrested in 2005 after her former boyfriend said he saw her leave McRae's home covered in blood.
Morris wants a new trial because she claims she wasn't told that court workers smelled alcohol on the breath of her attorney, Bob Powers.
Morris claims she also smelled something on Powers but thought it was aftershave.
Testimony at a hearing on the request last week showed that every main participant in the trial except Morris knew of the concerns.
Morris said she wasn't told of the concerns until after a jury found her guilty.
Gabriel Twohey, a substance abuse counselor at the Polk County Jail, testified that she smelled alcohol on Powers when he greeted her outside a courtroom early in the morning on the first day of Morris' trial.
Powers said the smell was leftover from wine he drank the night before. He testified that he often worked on the case until early in the morning and would have a drink before bedtime.
"If I was going to get any sleep at all, I would have a glass or two of white wine," Powers said.
A court reporter, Becky Maxcy, also noticed the odor of alcohol, and the matter was reported to District Judge Michael Huppert, who held a private meeting with Powers on the third day of trial.
Powers said Huppert seemed reassured that he wasn't impaired but warned him that "if it becomes a problem, then we'll have to address it."
Morris' new lawyer, Paul Scott, claims she was denied a fair trial because she wasn't allowed to participate in the meeting between the judge and Powers, ask questions about Powers' alcohol use, or ask for a new attorney.
The allegations against Powers caused a conflict of interest that deprived Morris "of her right to counsel, amounting to a structural defect requiring a new trial," court records show.
Rachel Regenold, Morris' other attorney during trial, said she noticed the odor but did not report it. Regenold also said she didn't notice any problems with Powers' abilities during trial.
Other witnesses said they noticed that Powers had trouble walking but thought it was because of back problems.
Powers acknowledged that he entered an alcohol rehabilitation program shortly after the trial and was later transferred to a senior job in the Story County public defender's office.
Huppert won't rule on the motion for a new trial for at least a week.