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Inside virtually every defense attorney beats a bleeding heart. These lawyers love to expound on the meaning of justice, how everyone deserves a fair trial, and how the true measure of a society rests in the way it treats its most reviled members. When it comes to Marvin Gray, however, they stop talking.

At a December hearing in Denver District Court, Gray expressed his feelings for his public defenders by threatening to "bite their goddamn throats out" unless they were removed from his case. "The first chance I get, I'm gonna do something real bad to them. You can believe that!"

The judge, the attorneys and the sheriff's deputies did believe him. A convicted murderer, Gray is already serving three life terms. As the state prison system's onetime weightlifting champion, he's more than capable of snapping necks.

That combination of facts has complicated Gray's right to representation.

As alternate defense counsel for the State of Colorado, it's Bryan Shaha's job to find lawyers for clients when a conflict arises within the public defender's office. He has a lengthy list of attorneys from which to choose and can generally find someone after making a few calls. But then there's Marvin. "Usually when I appoint people, if I know something about the case, I tell lawyers can assess whether they want to take the case or not," he says. "When I say there's a conflict because [Gray] threatened to kill his public defenders and he's serving three life sentences and he's confessed to twenty homicides and, oh, he weighs about 275 pounds, they say, 'I think I'll pass on this one.'"

No, Marvin has never been one to mess with. In 1985 he was convicted of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a 21-year-old woman. He was paroled six years later but was subsequently arrested for armed robbery and imprisoned again -- for good -- in 1992. In prison, his criminal career took on new life. On November 5, 1992, Gray was placed with six other inmates in a holding cell at the federal courthouse downtown. One of those men ended up dead. Gray was charged with the homicide but was acquitted. In the following years, Gray raped a number of cellmates. One of his victims won $70,000 from the state after he sued based on claims that prison officials had failed to protect him.

Late last year, Gray shocked the system again when he confessed to about twenty unsolved murders. He took a dislike to his public defenders, John Ventura and Mike Linge, though, and in late December tried to have them thrown off his case. "I'd really like to represent myself and just have an advisor," he told the court. When the judge refused, Gray went ballistic.

On February 6, the matter was shifted to Chief Judge Jeffrey Bayless. "I had hoped to be able to assign another attorney to your case today," Bayless told Gray that day, "but we've been unable to find anyone who is willing to represent you. Mr. Shaha has contacted seven attorneys, none of whom would agree to represent you."

The next week, Shaha told the judge he had a volunteer, but by a February 13 court date, that lawyer hadn't contacted the judge either. And even if a volunteer can be found, Gray might not be willing to cooperate: He has told Bayless he's still hoping to represent himself. Gray's next court date is February 20.


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