A man on trial in the brutal 1995 murder of Delta Air Lines flight attendant Karmen Smith has been described by prosecutors as a brilliant psychopath.
Waseem Daker, 35, of Lawrenceville now is channeling his intellect into fighting for his freedom. Acting as his own lawyer, he pleaded his case directly to a Cobb County jury Wednesday afternoon in front of a courtroom full of captivated spectators.
“I don’t think evidence in this case is going to show who killed Karmen Smith, but I do think it’s going to show that I did not,” said Daker, who has no formal legal training but has educated himself on the law while incarcerated.
Daker previously was convicted of stalking Loretta Spencer Blatz, who was Smith’s upstairs roommate at the time he allegedly confronted Smith in her home on Old Hunters Trace in Marietta on Oct. 23, 1995. He is alleged to have bound Smith’s wrists, stabbed her twice and strangled her. He also is accused of stabbing Smith’s 5-year-old son numerous times when the boy returned home from school. The boy survived.
Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans told the jury in his opening statement that “this is a case of obsession and revenge,” saying Daker started calling Smith after she interfered with his attempt to harass her roommate.
Nuclear DNA testing was not available at the time of Smith’s slaying, so it was not until 2009 that Daker was linked to the crime scene after Cobb County police detectives ordered new testing of hairs found on Smith’s body, Evans said.
In his opening statement, Daker denied stalking Blatz. He said that although they were 17 and 30 years old, respectively, when they became acquainted through paintball tournaments, they were in a consensual on-again, off-again relationship. He said his hair could have been transferred from Blatz’s belongings to Smith’s clothing. Daker also claimed police mishandled the DNA evidence.
The opening statements followed a tense morning of pretrial arguments in which Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley clashed with Daker before grudgingly allowing him to dismiss his court-appointed lawyers. One of them, Jason Treadaway, was told to remain in court as “standby counsel” to advise Daker.
Staley said Daker was manipulating the justice system by promising in February to accept court-appointed defense lawyers in exchange for a seven-month trial delay, and then reneging on the eve of trial. However, after researching Georgia case law, Staley decided to allow Daker to represent himself so as not to risk having the verdict overturned on appeal.
“You’re making a choice to put yourself in harm’s way,” Staley concluded. “But that’s your choice, not mine.”
Daker faces 11 counts, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, aggravated stalking and burglary.
Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head said Daker, a former Georgia Tech computer science student, has a very high IQ and is probably the smartest person in the courtroom.
“He’s brilliant but, unfortunately, I think he’s a psychopath,” Head said.
Daker is allowed to remain unshackled in court and wear civilian clothing so the jury won’t be prejudiced against him. But special parameters were outlined Wednesday to maintain safety when he gets up to address jurors or cross-examine witnesses, who are expected to include Blatz and the murder victim’s son, Nick Smith.
Deputies used duct tape to mark lines on the floor beyond the podium, showing where Daker is prohibited from moving. Daker also will not be allowed to handle knives that prosecutors plan to admit into evidence.
After a rough week in Washington, President Barack Obama came to rainy Atlanta on Sunday to be with a friendlier crowd, becoming the first sitting president to give the commencement address at Morehouse College.