Marcus Coker has a list of complaints longer than the litany of charges against him.
The Akron man, who made the rare decision to represent himself in his upcoming murder trial, said he thinks everyone is treating him unfairly — from prosecutors and his standby attorneys to the jail staff he claims are denying him the treatment he needs for his hemorrhoids.
In an hour-long interview at the Summit County Jail, Coker discussed his many grievances as his trial date nears — and he faces a life sentence.
“It seems like the whole system is against me,” said Coker, 36, whose charges include aggravated murder for the stabbing death of his ex-girlfriend.
Coker claims he hasn’t seen all the evidence against him and has requested a continuance in his April 3 trial. This issue likely will be taken up during a pretrial Tuesday afternoon in Summit County Common Pleas Judge Kelly McLaughlin’s court.
Coker is the first person charged with murder in Summit County who has represented himself since 2015. This creates challenges for everyone involved in the case.
Coker said he agreed to talk to the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com in hopes of sharing “the truth” about his legal plight. He discussed why he’s representing himself, the two federal lawsuits he’s filed and his gripes about the jail, including the high cost for washcloths.
“I hope you don’t twist my words,” he said at the start of the interview.
Coker is no stranger to the justice system, with convictions for 10 felonies in the past 18 years in Summit County.
His prior convictions include receiving stolen property, burglary, robbery and drug possession charges. He lost part of his leg in a crash during a high-speed chase with police officers about 20 years ago and appears in court with crutches, a cane or a wheelchair.
Coker is now accused of breaking into an ex-girlfriend’s home and beating her up, stabbing another ex-girlfriend to death and getting into a standoff with police that ended with him being shot in the head. Authorities say the alleged incidents occurred over a two-day period in September 2017.
Coker faces charges for these incidents, as well as charges that he assaulted a jail deputy in March 2018.
Coker said he decided to represent himself against a total of 16 charges because he didn’t agree with decisions made by Don Hicks and Kerry O’Brien, two veteran defense attorneys appointed to represent him. He said, for example, that they agreed with prosecutors who wanted to delay the trial on the jail assault when he wanted the case adjudicated right away.
“I felt like I was being left in the blind,” he said.
Coker has a GED and no legal background. He didn’t represent himself in prior cases.
“I’m not a lawyer,” he said. “I don’t claim to be. I have common sense.”
In Coker’s last pretrial on Feb. 26, he and prosecutors made offers to settle all three of his cases. Coker offered to plead to several charges with the promise of a flat 25-year sentence. Prosecutors countered with a life sentence with possible parole after 15 to 41½ years.
Both sides rejected the offers and confirmed the trial date.
With the plea deals falling apart, Coker decided to sue the court where he’s being tried.
“So now, it’s like, ‘OK. I’m looking at all the rules that were broke,' ” he said.
Coker filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Akron last week against Summit County Common Pleas Court. He is seeking to have his cases thrown out, with his main complaint being that he wasn’t given a preliminary hearing.
Prosecutors, however, say Coker’s case was handled like most felonies in Summit County through a direct indictment process. This means rather than holding a preliminary hearing before a judge, cases are presented to a grand jury, which decides whether there is enough evidence for an indictment.
Akron and most Summit County communities use this process. Other large counties in Ohio, including Stark and Hamilton, also have adopted the direct indictment process, which has survived court challenges.
Coker, though, said he hasn’t been able to find an explanation of direct indictment in the limited legal research he’s been able to do while in jail but has found references in state law to a defendant’s right to a preliminary hearing.
Coker also is suing the jail where he’s now been incarcerated for about a year and a half.
In this suit, also filed in federal court in Akron, Coker claims Summit County Jail has failed to provide proper medical treatment, recreation, access to legal materials and a library, free copies and washcloths for bathing. He sued Sheriff Steve Barry, who oversees the jail.
Coker said he's seeking to "make Summit County Jail respect inmates because we’re men, regardless of our being here.”
Inspector Bill Holland, a spokesman for the sheriff, said his office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Coker said he has hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins in the lowest part of the rectum and anus, and saw a specialist where he chose a nonsurgical treatment. He said his condition hasn’t improved, though, and he hasn’t been permitted to return to the specialist.
Holland, while not commenting on Coker’s medical condition specifically, said inmates can request to see a nurse or a doctor who visits the jail. The nurse or doctor decides if additional medical attention is warranted.
Coker said he also thinks inmates should have access to a gym and that commissary prices shouldn’t be so high. He said that makes it difficult for someone who is indigent to access basic necessities, like washcloths.
“I can’t even take care of myself,” he said.
Holland said the jail regularly reviews commissary prices to make sure they are in line with what someone would pay if they bought items from a store. He said inmates are given a washcloth when they enter the jail and can buy extras for $1.25 each.
Holland said the sheriff’s office had layoffs in 2009 that included inmate service workers who supervised inmates in the gym. He said the sheriff has the go-ahead to hire more inmate service workers and hopes to have the gym reopened by summertime.
As for the library, Holland said inmates have access to books but not computers.
This has hampered Coker’s ability to review the evidence against him and prepare for trial.
A solution was reached last week that will enable Coker to review evidence.
Hicks provided a copy of the discovery on Friday to Tom Fields, an investigator authorized by the court to assist Coker. Fields planned to review the evidence and meet with Coker Monday. Fields can earn up to $3,500 for his work on the trial.
Fields said the delay in getting the evidence means Coker won’t be ready for an April trial.
“It’s going to be imperative that we have more time,” said Fields, who also assisted Jeffery Conrad, Summit County’s last pro se murder defendant who is serving a life sentence.
Coker agrees that he isn’t prepared for a trial and said he hopes the court grants a continuance.
Coker answered every question posed to him during his Beacon Journal/Ohio.com interview except one. He refused to discuss the most serious charges against him.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, shaking his head.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter:@swarsmithabj.