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Appomattox slayings suspect hires attorneys

A lawyer for the suspect in the slayings of eight people in Appomattox said Wednesday that it will probably be a few weeks before a preliminary hearing is conducted.

Christopher Speight, who is charged with one count of first-degree murder, has hired Roanoke defense attorneys Neil Horn and C.J. Covati. The lawyers made their first appearance on Speight's behalf Wednesday, when the case was transferred from Appomattox County General District Court to Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Horn said he and Covati have met with Speight, but he declined to discuss the defendant's demeanor or reveal anything about the defense strategy.

“We haven't even done any discovery on the case,” Horn said in a telephone interview.

Speight, 39, is currently charged with the slaying of his sister, Lauralee Sipe. Police have said Speight killed his sister and seven other people and fired several rounds from a high-powered rifle at a state police helicopter Jan. 19, then hid in the woods, prompting a massive manhunt before he surrendered the next day.

“The defense expects other charges will be forthcoming,” Horn said.

The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is probable cause to prosecute. If the judge finds probable cause, the case goes to a grand jury for indictment and the trial is held in Circuit Court. The next grand jury meets April 6.

The domestic relations court has initial jurisdiction in the case because the defendant and the victim were siblings who lived in the same home, Appomattox County Commonwealth's Attorney Darrel Puckett said. Horn said it is not unusual for such cases to be inadvertently filed first in General District Court.

Police have not given a motive for the killings. Relatives and people who knew Speight say he had a history of mental breakdowns and might have become fixated on the notion that his sister wanted to oust him from the house they shared, although a family lawyer has said Sipe's intention was to deed the property solely to her brother.

Horn declined to say whether he will seek a mental health evaluation of Speight, who is being held without bond.

Note: This post has been updated since it was first published.

-- Associated Press

By Washington Post Editors  |  January 27, 2010; 4:19 PM ET
Categories:  Updates , Virginia  
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