In what was an often tense first appearance Wednesday afternoon, Waldo resident Mario D. Easter, the suspect in Tuesday’s homicide of Stanley L. Milner, stated he intends to represent himself in his upcoming legal proceedings. The 39-year-old Easter was arrested early Aug. 7 and charged with capital murder and possession of a firearm by certain persons.
Typically a brisk, routine appearance, Wednesday’s matter was anything but when a shackled, often seemingly-disoriented Easter refused to sign a waiver document and frequently turned and looked into the small court audience of family members. He also asked multiple questions of both Circuit Judge David W. Talley Jr. and Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Phillips.
“I’ve just had a long night,” he said at one point.
The judge more than once calmly informed Easter — who was dressed in a camouflage hunting shirt and black and camo-specked pants — that he was not appearing in court to decide any issues of guilt or no guilt, but instead that he was simply informing the accused of his charges and the potential penalties the Waldo resident could face. Talley also told him that a bond needed to be set and that he was entitled to either hire his own attorney or request that a public defender appointed for him — if he qualified financially. Talley noted that formal charges still needed to be brought against Easter, and that if the prosecutor’s office elected not to move forward with the case, he would be released.
Easter multiple times stated he already knew his “Miranda Rights” and that he wanted to go about his legal action “Pro Se” or by defending himself. The judge replied he had already been issued his Miranda Rights during his arrest, and that what he was telling him was different.
Tally said that if Easter wanted represent himself in court, he would be expected to fulfill all the required motion and legal filings that an attorney would typically perform in such a case.
“You’ll still have to go about the process properly,” Talley said. “Just because you’re not a lawyer, that won’t be an excuse.”
Easter nodded and was adamant that he wanted to represent himself.
When the judge elaborated on the extent of Easter’s charges, informing him that he was accused of intentionally ending the life of Stanley Levon Milner by deadly force, and thus charged with capital murder, the Waldo resident replied, “I’ve never heard that name before in my life.”
As the judge continued, Easter almost laughingly stated: “I must’ve done that in my sleep.”
For the capital murder charge alone, Easter could face up to life in prison without parole or the death penalty. He could also receive five to 20 years in prison for the firearm charge.
When time came to set a bond, Phillips told the judge that the state was recommending no bail, leaving Easter unable to bond himself out of the county jail. The prosecutor’s reasoning included the fact that Easter was a four-time prior felon — two separate convictions in Texas and two in Arkansas — and that one of the counts included failure to appear. He also noted the seriousness of the new charges, saying that the murder count was a “capital offense.”
Easter, once the state made its recommendation, was seemingly stunned with Phillips, even staring at him and then asking him directly for his name.
“We’re talking to the judge,” the prosecutor said as he pointed to the bench.
During the proceeding, no less than eight armed officials surrounded Easter, with one uniformed Columbia County Sheriff’s Office deputy even standing at one point between Phillips and the accused.
With the state recommendation, no bond was set.
It was later revealed that Easter also possessed a parole hold, which revokes bond. The judge then told Easter that it did not matter if he set bond a $1, he could not make bail with the hold.
After a lengthy first appearance and more back and forth between the parties, with Easter again asking Phillips for his name, the matter came to an end with the Waldo resident walking calmly back into the holding cell area adjacent to the courtroom. He is expected to appear in court again as early as September for a possible arraignment.
Note: This story was edited Friday morning.