SOMERSET – A former SCI-Somerset inmate already serving a life prison sentence for one murder could now face the death penalty for killing a cellmate in January.
Prosecutors announced Monday they will seek capital punishment against 25-year-old Dale Wakefield, saying he heinously tortured fellow inmate Joshua Steven Perry, tying him up with a piece of bed sheet and partially removing his ear – before tossing his body underneath a bunk bed inside their cell.
“He’s already serving a life sentence. What other penalty could this defendant face, if not the death penalty?” Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser said.
“There isn’t another (option).”
Wakefield arrived in court in an orange jumpsuit and prison shackles for his formal arraignment and told Somerset County President Judge D. Gregory Geary he still plans to represent himself, despite the fact he is entitled to court-appointed attorneys for both the trial and, potentially, the death penalty phase.
Joshua Perry (left) and Dale Wakefield booking mugshot. Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Submitted Photo/The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
Geary reminded him that legal representation could be provided to him at no cost, but Wakefield indicated he had no intention of allowing anyone to represent him who was appointed by the court system.
Then, he asked Geary if the court could provide him with a copy of the Rules of Criminal Procedure lawbook, so he could prepare his case inside his jail cell.
“I’m only being allowed two hours a week to access the law library – that’s not a meaningful amount of time to get my defense in order,” said Wakefield, who is being lodged at SCI-Greene, a maximum security state prison.
Geary responded that, if necessary, court filing deadlines can be extended.
That was a matter for another day, the judge said, telling Wakefield he was only in court Monday to be arraigned on his charges, which include criminal homicide, aggravated assault and assault by a prisoner.
Wakefield was charged by state police after prison personnel found Perry deceased underneath a bed.
Perry suffered from a head injury and his ear was “almost completely removed,” the district attorney said. His hands and feet were tied with remnants of a sheet.
Another piece of cloth was wrapped around his neck, which was severed, she said.
Prosecutors were entitled to seek the death penalty against him because he has already been convicted of killing another person. But Lazzari-Strasiser said three other “aggravating factors” also apply:
• The crime was committed by someone serving a life prison sentence;
• The crime was committed by means of torture;
• Wakefield allegedly committed the killing while in the perpetration of a felony.
Wakefield is serving a life sentence for the 2013 stabbing death of a 71-year-old homeless man. Investigators said he used a pocket knife to stab Army veteran George Mohr more than 70 times in a Bucks County bus shelter.
If convicted of first-degree murder in Perry’s death, Wakefield would face a separate court proceeding to determine if he should be placed on death row – the state’s highest level of punishment.
Geary took time to remind Wakefield of the magnitude of those ramifications Monday in court.
The judge has appointed a standby attorney to appear at legal proceedings, in case Wakefield needs someone at an advisory level, but such assistance is limited.
“You certainly are entitled to represent yourself. The court is obligated to allow you to represent yourself,” Geary said. “But what we are not obligated to do is cushion you from all of the negative impacts of your decision.”
While the move is somewhat rare, defendants have represented themselves in capital murder cases before in Pennsylvania, Lazzari-Strasiser said.
She said it can lead to complications and trial schedule delays.
“But we certainly want to allow him to have his Constitutional right,” she said.
Wakefield has begun filing pretrial motions in the case and has two weeks to file a request for “discovery” materials, such as police reports and written statements, that prosecutors may use in the case against him.
A trial date has not yet been set.