Prince William Circuit Court Judge Craig D. Johnston appointed as lead counsel Daniel J. Morissette, a well-known Manassas defense attorney and a former member of the capital defender’s office, the unit generally appointed in cases where the death penalty is on the line.
Johnston also appointed defense attorney Tracey A. Lenox to serve in Rams’s defense.
Rams, who said he has no money to hire his own attorney, had asked for Fairfax attorneys Mark Petrovich and Thomas Walsh, and he did so again Monday.
Rams told Johnston before he delivered his decision that Petrovich and Walsh have been in touch with his former attorney, Timothy Olmstead. He said they know the case well and he had a good meeting with them. “They strongly believe in my innocence,” Rams said of the Fairfax lawyers.
Johnston said that the team he appointed was “appropriate,” and he would not go into detail about why he chose them. Johnston said that defendants who cannot hire their own attorneys do not get to pick who is appointed.
In most cases, Virginia courts appoint the regional Capital Defender’s Office to represent defendants who could face the death penalty and cannot afford to hire a lawyer. But last week, Northern Virginia capital defender Edward Ungvarsky said that his office could not take the case because of its current workload.
Authorities say Rams took out more than $500,000 in life insurance on his son before his death. Prince was the subject of a custody dispute and died during a court-ordered visit with his father. Olmstead, Rams’s former attorney, has said that the boy’s death was an accident brought on by fever-induced seizures.
Morissette handled appellate issues for John Allen Muhammad, the so-called “D.C. sniper,” who was executed for his crimes in 2009. None of Morissette’s clients received the death penalty when he worked in the capital defender’s office between 2007 and 2012, according to his Web site.
He declined to comment after the hearing.
A trial date has not yet been set in the case.