Convicted murderer Richard Howard Watkins, 56, fired his defense attorney in a surprise move Tuesday at his sentencing prompting his hearing to be delayed until Feb. 8.
The hearing wasn’t underway for a minute at the San Joaquin County courthouse in Stockton when Watkins informed Judge Bernard J. Garber he was firing his defense attorney, Public Defender Adam Grace.
Watkins was convicted last year of killing Kelly Marelich, 22, of Manteca.
Watkins, in custody for the last three years, told the judge he wanted to defend himself for the March 2014 murder that Manteca Police said took place in a Moffat Boulevard motel room. Evidence showed he then put the woman’s body in a grocery cart and pushed it down South Main Street to a shopping center in the 1100 block of South Main Street where he left it in a dumpster behind a sporting goods store.
Judge Garber cautioned Watkins that by not having an attorney to defend him, he would face unexpected issues, that if not handled properly, would go against him and not hold up in any defense action later in the legal process in a possible appeal.
The courtroom was cleared for a closed conference between the judge, the public defender, and prosecutor. The outcome saw Douglas Goss appointed by the judge to represent Watkins at a continued sentencing set for 9 a.m. Feb. 20 in the same courtroom A 8.
There had been more than a dozen of Marelich’s relatives sitting in the courtroom prepared to testify against any possible light sentence that might be handed down by the judge for killing Marelich just days before her 23rd birthday. Both her mother Gloria and her Dad Stephen were in the courtroom Tuesday.
Watkins had lived in the “His Way” halfway house for recovering addicts in Manteca for a year and a half and was located after the murder in 2015 as an inmate in the DVI prison in Tracy where he was serving a sentence for another conviction. A jury of seven men and five women took only a day and a half to come back with a guilty plea of first degree murder against Watkins who had been convicted earlier of two felonies. The Sheriff’s log notes he is known by six other aliases and is being held in the San Joaquin County Jail without bail.
Watkins had worked as a handyman in Manteca and Stockton.
Kelly Marelich was an honor student and a graduate of Sierra High School. She had been attending Stanislaus State University hoping to become a lawyer.
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