Blaha denied new attorney, competency questioned

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Taylor Blaha, right, appeared in court alongside her attorney, Charles Kenville, for a hearing at the Webster County Courthouse on Friday morning.

A Webster County judge has denied a murder defendant’s request for a new public defender.

Taylor K. Blaha, 24, of Fort Dodge, is accused of drowning her newborn baby girl in a downtown Fort Dodge apartment last November. Last week, Blaha submitted two filings in Webster County District Court requesting that defense attorneys Charles Kenville and Dianne Wallwey be removed from her case.

A hearing on Blaha’s request was held Friday morning at the Webster County Courthouse. During the hearing, Kenville told District Court Judge Christopher Polking that he didn’t believe there was just cause to remove him from the case. Wallwey is slated as the second chair for the defense, but has not yet played an active role in preparing for trial. Both Kenville and Wallwey are with the Mason City Public Defender’s Office.

Just prior to Blaha making her request, Kenville received a large cache of evidence from the prosecution, including recordings, photographs, lab reports and other digital evidence. He said he attempted to meet with Blaha to discuss the evidence, but she refused to see him on two occasions.

At Friday’s hearing, Polking gave Blaha an opportunity to share on the record her conflict with Kenville.

“I don’t think he’s always on my side,” she said.

She also acknowledged that she refused to talk to him when he came to visit her at the Hamilton County Jail.

“I think he’s a good attorney, but I don’t think he’s on my side,” she said. “He’s not protecting me.”

Polking asked Blaha on whose side she thinks Kenville is on.

“I think he’s on the society’s side,” she answered.

Blaha said her chief complaint is that Kenville has told her she could go to prison for the rest of her life.

“You do understand that one of the things an attorney has to do for their clients is to tell them what the possible consequences of the charge that they have,” Polking said. “In your case, you are charged with murder in the first degree. If you go to trial and are convicted, you mandatorily must be sentenced to prison for the rest of your life with no possibility of parole.”

He told her the consequences would be the same if she had a different attorney.

Blaha also told the judge that she has a learning disability. Kenville said he is working to address her learning disability and has a specialist coming to visit her soon.

After a brief recess when Kenville, Blaha and Polking went into the judges’ chambers to discuss privileged information outside the presence of the prosecution, the hearing resumed in open court. Polking denied Blaha’s request for a new attorney.

In the written ruling filed after the hearing, Polking wrote that Kenville had discussed trial strategy with Blaha and “she does not disagree with the strategy as much as she appears not to understand it.”

“Any breakdown in communication is solely attributable to the defendant’s refusal to cooperate,” Polking wrote. “Counsel is experienced and competent and known to zealously advocate for his clients.”

Blaha just doesn’t like what Kenville has to say, Polking wrote. He wrote that Blaha wouldn’t be likely to be any more cooperative with new counsel.

“Her refusal to cooperate with counsel at this point may or may not be irreconcilable, and may be related to her possible difficulties in understanding the proceedings and how to aid in her own defense,” he wrote.

Polking also noted that if he were to remove the Mason City Public Defender’s Office from the case, the closest available public defender’s office is Des Moines because the Story County Public Defender’s Office is representing Blaha’s co-defendant, Brandon Thoma.

During the hearing, Kenville requested a hearing to determine probable cause to evaluate Blaha’s competency to understand the trial proceedings and assist effectively in her own defense.

A hearing to determine if there’s probable cause for a competency evaluation is scheduled for Friday morning.

Blaha and Thoma were arrested on Dec. 7 and charged with first-degree murder, a Class A felony. Thoma is also charged with abuse of a corpse, a Class C felony, for allegedly disposing of the infant’s remains.

Blaha’s trial is currently scheduled for Feb. 28, though it will likely be postponed to a later date.

Thoma’s trial is scheduled for Aug. 8.

The infant’s remains have not yet been found and the Fort Dodge Police Department is continuing to investigate. The Webster County Crime Stoppers has offered a $1,500 reward for information that leads to the recovery of the body. Anonymous tips can be submitted by testing “LEC” and the tip to 274-637 or by calling 515-573-1444.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today