Man fires attorney in court, represents himself in armed robbery case

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By Travis Jenkins

It’s a different twist on “self defense.”

“My client wishes to fire me and will be representing himself,” attorney Geoffry Dunn said in court Wednesday.

The client was Geraldo Land, who was charged with entering an Ashford Street home last April and robbing a table full of poker players at gunpoint.

“You understand this is not the wisest decision you ever made,” Judge Mark Hayes said.

Land said he understood the implications and wanted to proceed. Dunn remained in the courtroom to answer any procedural questions.

According to police, Land and codefendant John Wilmore entered the home of Walter Caldwell late on the evening of April 9 last year. Land is alleged to have put a gun to the head of Joseph Woods and taken approximately $1,800 from him. Wilmore (who took a plea deal in the case) took several hundred dollars off the table belonging to Caldwell and Woods’ brother Malcolm.

Woods said he frequently goes to Caldwell’s house to play cards. Having just gotten his tax return, he said he had about $2,000 to gamble with. His account of the robbery matched that of police. He said Caldwell’s granddaughter Jasmine had been present but left shortly before the robbery. Wilmore was there and played a few hands but left, saying he had to go to work. Caldwell, his daughter Latricia, Woods and his brother remained there. Woods said his brother went outside to smoke at some point after 10 p.m. and that when he walked back in the house, Wilmore and Land rushed in. He said the men were wearing hoodies, but that he was able to identify them. He said he “bowed up” as Land put the gun to his head, but that Land shook his head and mumbled “uh uh” perhaps indicating he did not need to mount a fight or struggle. He said when he looked up, though, he could tell it was Land.

“I’m glad I’m here today. I could’ve been dead,” he said.

He said he had never had a problem with Wilmore or Land before. He found out after the fact he is actually related to Land. Several days after the incident, he said that Wilmore came to his place of employment and made a veiled threat of some kind, telling him “don’t make me go back to that life.”

Land, during his cross-examination of Woods, noted that the victim had waited more than 15 minutes after the robbery to call police. Caldwell said he was “terrified” and didn’t know if the two men might still be around.

“So you were so terrified you waited 15 minutes to call 911, but not terrified enough not to look up?” Land asked.

At one point, Woods described that the chair he was sitting in was about three inches from a door. Land asked how he could have been behind him if the space was so tight. Woods said he didn’t know but said that had been the case.

Caldwell’s version of what happened matched that of Woods. Land referenced a statement Caldwell made previously that the faces of the robbers were partially obscured. He asked with that being the case, how did he know Land (he referred to himself in the third person) was the one who put the gun to Woods’ head.

“By your height and the tone of your voice,” he said.

Land said that witness testimony indicated he had only mumbled and said “uh uh” and that his height and skin tone are common. He noted that Caldwell had previously said he only saw one of the robbers.

“I know it was you,” said Caldwell, who said at the time of the robbery he only knew Land by the nickname “Snoop.” He did pick both he and Wilmore out of a lineup later on. When asked, he said Land had always been respectful to both he and his wife.

Caldwell’s daughter Latricia testified as well. The only variance between her recollection and that of Woods and Caldwell was that she remembered the robbers wearing “little scarf things” around their mouths. Beyond the robbery, she said Land and his mother had come to her place of work and confronted her about her about her allegation of what happened the night of the robbery. Land played a statement she’d made previously when she said “John John” (Wilmore’s nickname) was actually behind Woods. She said that what she meant was, both men were behind him, one to either side.

On Thursday, the trial was delayed as Land wanted to play back more witness statements. The state had allowed him to use its computer on Wednesday, but said it was set up for use in closing arguments and that they had already accommodated him more than was required the previous day. So, someone had to go fetch Land’s laptop.

Land questioned Sgt. Justin Moss of the Chester Police Department twice Thursday. He asked if he had interviewed Jasmine Caldwell. Moss said he spoke to her briefly, but that she had not been present during the robbery, so there was no value in interviewing her. He asked if he’d interviewed anyone who lived near the house where the robbery happened. He said he had not. Land questioned why Moss had not interviewed Malcolm Woods, since he was there the night of the robbery.

“He didn’t want to talk,” Moss said.

“Why not?” Land asked.

“Because he’s scared of you,” Moss said.

Land asked if Moss had followed up on speaking with Mary Burris. Land claims he was at Burris’ house when the robbery took place. Moss said he tried to make contact but had not interviewed her. As for others Land asked about, Moss said that some witnesses are harder find than others and not all of them want to talk. When asked, he said he did know Land from when he worked at the detention center and Land was an inmate. Sixth Circuit Deputy Solicitor Candice Lively (with the jury out of the room) said invoking his own criminal past should have given her license to make Land’s past criminal history an issue. She said he was a convicted felon with a history of weapons offenses. Land also asked Moss if he had any problem with him and if he thought he seemed capable of doing what was alleged in Caldwell’s house. Lively said Land was making his own character an issue, which she felt further opened the door for discussion of Land’s previous transgressions. She also said he was essentially testifying without taking the stand. Hayes did not allow Lively to go at Land’s character. Land continued to note that witnesses had at some point said it was Wilmore who put the gun to Woods’ head. Moss said the investigation had determined that it was Land who had done so.

Once the state rested, Land called Burris to the stand who backed his story that he was at her house hanging out with “her boys” from 9 p.m. until at least midnight. She said he never left. She said she had known Land for a long time and viewed him almost as a son. He then called Thomas Love to the stand, a friend who had an alibi for Land that seemed to contradict Burris’ He said he and Land rode around town from 10 until 11 p.m. on the night of the robbery. At 11 p.m., Love said he left to meet up with some girls, but called Land to pick him up at 11:50 p.m. The two ended up sleeping in Land’s car with Land’s son (referred to only as “Snoop Junior”) in the back seat. He never referenced being at Burris’ house. Lively spent a great deal of time noting that the two alibi stories did not jibe at all.

“If you were with him from 10 until 11, how was he with Mary from 9 p.m. until midnight?” Lively asked.

For comic effect, Lively asked Love “is 10 p.m. in-between 9 and midnight?”

Love said he couldn’t’ explain the conflict but said he was with Land then, riding in a car the whole time. When Lively asked, he said that Land had called him the next day, told him he was being implicated in a robbery and that he wanted him to provide an alibi story for him.

Closing arguments are set for today.