Man accused of shooting Palmer police officer fires defense lawyers

Posted: Tuesday, October 24, 2000

PALMER (AP) -- The man accused of fatally shooting a Palmer police officer in a grocery store parking lot has fired his lawyers and is conducting his own defense.

Kim Cook is accused of killing James Rowland Jr. He insisted on the legal change at his trial here Monday despite warnings from Superior Court Judge Fred Torrisi that it was not in his best interests.

''My opinion is you are making a mistake by undertaking to represent yourself,'' Torrisi said, noting the difficulty of murder cases and the fact that the trial already was under way.

The 53-year-old Cook is charged with first-degree murder. He told the judge he knew what he was doing. Cook said his lawyers -- public defenders Greg Heath and George Davenport -- were incompetent.

Cook is accused of shooting Rowland in the early morning hours of May 15 after the officer stopped to check on what he thought was a man slumped over the wheel of a pickup in a grocery store parking lot.

The man was Cook, sleeping while he was returning to Slana from Anchorage.

Prosecutors contend that Cook killed Rowland in a cold-blooded ambush because he hated police officers and was afraid he was going to be arrested. He was driving with an expired license and tags.

Cook's attorneys had said Cook fired his gun while struggling with Rowland.

Both men were shot during the encounter: Rowland once in the neck and Cook twice in the chest.

The problems presented by Cook's decision became immediately obvious in the Palmer courtroom. He told Torrisi he planned to study evidence rules when he got the book from the library.

At one point, he looked to his former attorneys for help. ''Uh, advice?'' he said turning from one to the other with his hands in the air.

Torrisi had ordered the lawyers to remain and advise Cook.

Cook as his own attorney made for some strange encounters, like when he questioned his father and stepmother.

Addressing his 85-year-old father, he said, ''Dad, I'm representing myself. It's OK, we're just talking.''

Then he seemed near tears as he asked his dad about his childhood.

''When I was young, did I ever get in fights? Didn't you teach me not to fight?'' he asked.

No, he never did fight, his dad agreed.

To his stepmother, who testified that he had spoken several times about ''taking out'' the next officer that messed with him, he was less cordial.

''You'd probably really like to see something bad happen to me, wouldn't you?'' he said.

''No, Kim,'' she told him. ''You are my husband's son. We pray for you every day.''

Cook has yet to present his version of events, but he seemed to offer a version while questioning Palmer Sgt. Thomas Remaley about what it would take for an officer to pull his gun.

''What if you hauled the person out of the vehicle, then say you surprised him. He (the officer) turned and grabbed you and tried to throw you to the ground, but it fails and the man runs back to the vehicle,'' he said.

Then would you pull the gun? he asked.

''I couldn't tell you,'' Remaley said. ''I'd have to have been there.''

At that, Cook shook his head and in a voice that suggested both disappointment and puzzlement, said, ''I'm still trying to figure out what happened that night. I was just hoping you could help me figure (it) out.''

Although he can represent himself, Cook has been prohibited by Torrisi from approaching witnesses or handling evidence, which includes guns and ammunition. He also has required that the leg shackles he has worn throughout the trial remain on.

''I'm not prepared to turn you loose,'' the judge told Cook.

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