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Willis' attorneys ask to be removed from case

DEE GOODIN • Mar 15, 2007 at 12:03 PM

JOHNSON CITY - As much as four months ago, Howard Willis was already expressing his dissatisfaction with his attorneys, but now his attorneys are so dissatisfied with their client they have asked to be removed from the case.

On Wednesday, Johnson City attorney Gene Scott filed a motion asking to remove himself and T. Wood Smith, of Greeneville, from the case due to "irreconcilable conflict."

Willis is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abuse of a corpse. Willis, a Johnson City resident and formerly of Chickamauga, Ga., is charged in the deaths of Adam Chrismer, 17, and his wife of two months, Samantha Leming, 16. Prosecutors maintain Willis killed the teenagers three days apart in October 2002 at his mother's 104 Brentwood Drive home.

Willis was arrested after a Boone Lake fisherman discovered Chrismer's head in the lake. Search team members later found Chrismer's hands in the lake. The remainder of Chrismer's body was found in a plastic container in a downtown Johnson City storage facility. While Leming was not dismembered, prosecutors say her body had been "manipulated in such a way" that it could also be placed in a plastic container, which was found along with Chrismer's remains.

During an interview with Willis in the Washington County Detention Center in November, he said he intended to fire the attorneys and hire his own private investigator.

In a previous court appearance, Criminal Court Judge Lynn Brown warned Willis if he fired his attorneys, he would be representing himself.

In mid-March of 2005, Willis and attorneys Jim Bowman and Stacy Street went separate ways by mutual agreement. Since that time, Brown has appointed six others to represent Willis.

During one court appearance, Brown asked Scott, who has been on the Willis case longer than any other attorney, why Willis was able to work with him as opposed to others.

"It's my natural ability, your honor," Scott said.

When Willis appeared before Brown in December, Scott said, "Your honor, my intention, and Mr. Smith's intention, is to represent Mr. Willis to the best of our abilities. We need more evaluation, but we will attempt to honor Mr. Willis' requests."

"You're doing an admirable job - and under very difficult circumstances," the judge replied.

But Scott's "natural ability" to deal with Willis has worn thin, as has his patience.

Brown will rule on the motion on Monday.

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