WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – A Florida woman accused of having her husband killed to get at his millions said Wednesday that she can't afford her Manhattan lawyer and wants the government to pay his fees.
The lawyer said he's willing to work for publicly paid fees, which would be well below his normal rates, "because I care about my client and I want to see that justice is done."
"I'm looking forward to trying this case," said attorney Howard Tanner. "I think there are a lot of circumstances the government ... will have a hard time explaining."
Tanner spoke after his client, Narcy Novack, 53, of Fort Lauderdale, told a federal judge she cannot afford to pay a lawyer because her assets have been seized by the government.
She and three others, including her brother Cristobal Veliz, are charged in the July 2009 killing of Ben Novack Jr., whose father built the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Novack was beaten to death at the Hilton in Rye Brook, N.Y., where his company had organized an Amway convention.
Prosecutors say Narcy Novack let two killers into the hotel room, watched as they beat her husband with dumbbells and ordered them to cut his eyes out. They have also accused her of plotting the fatal beating of her elderly mother-in-law in Florida, but she has not been charged in that death.
Tanner has said his client was not involved in either killing. He said Wednesday he would "get to the bottom of this." He said the government "will have a hard time explaining" several issues, including why the case is in federal court rather than state court.
He noted that Novack is not charged with murder but with interstate domestic violence and stalking. Federal prosecutors often take on murder cases by asserting interstate elements that give them jurisdiction. Conviction could mean life in prison.
Normally in federal cases, if a defendant proves an inability to pay, a lawyer is appointed from the federal defender's office or from a panel of attorneys willing to do such work. Tanner is not on the panel, but Novack told the judge she would like to keep him. Tanner said he was willing and Judge Kenneth Karas seemed amenable. No immediate decision was made.
The judge said the complexity of the case and the amount of time Tanner has already put in would make it difficult for a new lawyer to take over.
Two co-defendants, Denis Ramirez of Brooklyn and Joel Gonzalez of Miami, already have court-appointed lawyers. Veliz applied for one on Wednesday and his private lawyer, Valerie Wong, said she would not be continuing with the case.
The defendants are due back in court Dec. 16.