The lawyer for accused mass murderer Ronald Ellis pleaded yesterday to be released from the case, but a Prince George's County judge refused to go along with his request.
Attorney R. Kenneth Mundy told Judge Jacob S. Levin that he did not want to defend his client any longer because Ellis' family has no money to pay his fees.
But Levin ordered Mundy to remain on the case, saying the attorney has a responsibility to continue to represent Ellis, whose trial is scheduled to begin next month.
Ellis, 34, was charged with the May 2 murder of his wife, two daughters and three other persons. All of the victims were shot to death in Ellis' orange brick Camp Springs home soon after Ellis and his wife, Ingrid, decided to get a divorce.
Ellis' parents had expected to pay Mundy's legal fees with money from the sale of the Camp Springs house, Mundy said. But according to Ellis' sister Renee, the family has been unable to find a buyer.
Mundy said he learned that Ellis could not pay him several weeks ago, when psychiatrists hired to examine his client asked for payment but received no money. As a result, the defense psychiatrists did not evaluate Ellis, although psychiatrists for the prosecution have examined him. Ellis has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.
Judge Levin said yesterday that the public defender's office will pay for a psychiatric evaluation for the defense. Mundy said public defenders will also assist him by helping to plan strategy for the case.
"Once a lawyer enters an appearance (for a client in Maryland) he has an obligation to continue with the case," Levin said in explaining his decision.
"I feel terrible," Mundy said in the courthouse after the judge's ruling. "But I'm going to do as good a job as I can." He estimated that his fees in the case would have amounted to more than $10,000.
Ellis' 18-year-old sister, Renee, who lives in North Carolina with her parents, said by telephone that she and her parents had been "very worried" that the case would go to another lawyer. "We all feel happier, very happy that Mr. Mundy will continue with Ron's defense," Renee Ellis said.
State's attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. has asked for the death penalty for Ellis, who has one surviving daughter, Tracey Marie, 15. His daughter, who is living with an aunt in Prince George's County, had been at the movies with a friend when her mother, sisters and three other persons were killed in the bedrooms and hallway of her orange brick house.