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Four claim to be suspect’s attorney

December 15, 2016 GMT

KINGMAN — Will the real lead attorney for a Meadview man charged with murder please stand up?

Victor Steven Empie, 62, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and attempted arson of an occupied structure. He is being held in county jail on a $1 million bond.

Empie was back in court Wednesday with four defense attorneys seeking to be considered lead attorney in his murder case.

Deputy public defender Ira Shiflett said that he is the lead attorney on the case, assisted by fellow deputy public defender Jacob Chavez.

However, Flagstaff attorney Daniel Kaiser filed a notice of appearance as defense attorney. He then sought to withdraw from the case but as of Wednesday asked the judge to again be lead counsel along with Kenneth Sheffield, also from Flagstaff.

Deputy Mohave County Attorney Bob Moon said he has concerns about out-of-county private attorneys who withdraw from criminal cases after the money runs out. He said he also had concerns about sending documents to four attorneys.

Superior Court Commissioner Billy Sipe Jr. said he also has concerns about out-of-county private attorneys who appear by telephone and rarely come to Mohave County. The judge expressed concerns about out-of-county attorneys withdrawing and sending the case back to the public or legal defender’s office.

Sipe encouraged the four attorneys to determine among themselves who is lead counsel, arguing that when there is a power struggle between defense attorneys, it is unfair to the defendant. The judge also affirmed the next court hearing for Jan. 25 when an evidentiary hearing will be held to determine whether Empie is competent to stand trial.

Two psychologists have evaluated Empie to determine his competence to stand trial. Sipe said the psychologists have differing opinions. The defense attorney and the prosecutor each pick a psychologist to examine a defendant. If they have opposing opinions, the judge rules if the defendant is competent to stand trial.

Empie was arrested April 8 after allegedly killing his neighbor, John Hewett Payne, 66, after a dispute on Gladiola Drive in Meadview. Empie reportedly drove his Ford truck into Payne’s recreational vehicle, knocking the trailer off its jacks, according to the sheriff’s office.

Payne and his wife woke from the noise of Empie’s truck crashing into their home. As Payne opened his door, Empie shot Payne in the abdomen, killing him, according to MCSO.