OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The trial of a man accused of killing another person and burning the body began this week, and the defendant decided to represent himself.
Derrick Laday is accused in the 2015 fatal stabbing of Dennis Johnson Jr., then burning Johnson’s body in Ada. Three others were charged in connection with the murder and four more people were charged in helping dispose of the body.
All of the alleged accomplices have gone through the court process, either pleading guilty, pleading guilty to lesser charges as part of plea deals or having their charges dismissed altogether.
Now Laday is the only one left. He faces the death penalty, and he said he wanted to take his fate into his own hands.
While attorneys who spoke to KFOR agree that representing oneself is extremely risky, and almost unheard of in capital cases, Laday is resolute in his decision.
“I’m going to try to do the best that I can,” Laday told KFOR. “I’m not an actual lawyer, but I’m going to do the best that I can.”
The 28-year-old was a spectacle in the courtroom on Wednesday, questioning potential jurors near the end of the third straight day of jury selection.
He’s one of very few Oklahoma defendants who have chosen to represent themselves against a crime as serious as first-degree murder.
“I don’t know of very many cases, if any, in Oklahoma where there has been a defendant representing himself on a death penalty case,” said defense attorney Michael Arnett.
Authorities allege Laday killed Johnson in revenge after Johnson allegedly stole some of his property. The others implicated in the crime and in getting rid of the body afterward may be called as some of the state’s key witnesses.
“The state intends to call those witnesses after receiving plea agreements, so I think that’s going to be a very interesting part of testimony in this trial,” Arnett said.
Arnett will be available to Laday throughout the trial to answer questions, and he will take over if at any point Laday decides he does not want to represent himself anymore.
Until that happens, Laday will be defending his own life.
When asked whether he was worried defending himself will increase his chances of getting the death penalty, Laday said, “No, not at all.”
A jury was seated late Wednesday afternoon. Opening statements are scheduled to begin Thursday morning.