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Murder Defendant Questions Self at Trial : Justice: Billy Ray Waldon, accused of deadly crime rampage, adds another bizarre twist at trial where he is acting as own lawyer.

October 09, 1991|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an odd bit of testimony, a man accused of three murders took the stand in his own defense Tuesday to field questions from himself.

Billy Ray Waldon, 39, is acting as his own defense attorney in a capital case that involves a string of violent crimes in 1985 and 1986. So, when it came time for the defendant's testimony, it was Waldon himself who asked--and answered--the questions.

Sitting at the witness stand in a suit and tie, Waldon addressed himself in the second person, using what he says is his Cherokee name, Nvwtohiyada Idehesdi Sequoyah. During about an hour of testimony, all of which focused on proving his claim of Cherokee heritage, Waldon read his questions from a legal pad.

"Mr. Sequoyah," Waldon read, "how old were you when you received your Cherokee language name?"

Waldon looked up from his pad and into the eyes of the jury.

"I was 4 years old," he answered, barely pausing before following up.

"Mr. Sequoyah, does that name have a meaning in the Cherokee language?"

"Yes it does," he said to himself, looking at the jury again. "The first name means 'Peace, harmony and good health.' The second means 'Let us live.' So together they mean 'Let us live in peace, harmony and good health.' "

Waldon's testimony came unexpectedly Tuesday after bad weather caused another defense witness to be late to court. Over Waldon's objections, Superior Court Judge David Gill demanded that Waldon begin his testimony Tuesday if he planned to do so at all. It is likely to resume today.

Waldon's self-defense, which is in its fourth week, centers on his contention that, because of his American-Indian affiliations, the FBI made him the focus of a counterintelligence operation, or COINTELPRO. In testimony last month, Waldon's wife, a Swiss citizen who called herself Brigitte Sequoyah, said she believes federal agents framed Waldon.

She supported that contention by recounting that she went looking for Waldon one day in 1985 and had found him lying face up on the ground, surrounded by two men who wore dark ski masks, dark trousers and sweat shirts that said "Federal Agent" on both the front and back. Waldon says it is these men who committed the crimes of which he is accused.

Police allege that, on Dec. 7, 1985, Waldon shot and killed a Del Mar woman in her home and bludgeoned to death her two small shih tzu dogs. Then, in an attempt to cover up the murder, police contend, Waldon set fire to the house, killing the woman's 13-year-old daughter in the blaze.

During the next two weeks, Waldon allegedly went on a crime rampage, robbing several San Diegans and twice raping a woman in Pacific Beach. Then, on Dec. 20, police say, Waldon was fleeing the scene of a purse-snatching when he encountered two men in University Heights and opened fire. One man was killed, the other wounded.

Waldon has pleaded not guilty to these crimes--24 counts in all that police say he committed between late 1985 and mid-1986, when he was apprehended.

Waldon's decision to go to court in propria persona-- without the representation of professional lawyers--has added some unusual quirks to an already emotional trial.

In riveting testimony in July, a woman who said Waldon raped her at gunpoint spent hours being questioned by Waldon himself. As she answered Waldon, the woman sometimes referred to the attacker as "you."

But Tuesday's testimony was the strangest of all, as Waldon served as his own soft-spoken interrogator. Often, he was interrupted by Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Carpenter, who objected to many of Waldon's questions because he said they were irrelevant. But, after each objection, Waldon resumed his polite dialogue.

"Mr. Sequoyah, could you please finish telling us what Cherokee means to you?" he asked at one point.

Outside the presence of the jury, Waldon said his questions were relevant because Carpenter was "obviously intending to attempt to argue to the jury that my Cherokee heritage is a recent fabrication." On the contrary, he said, even though he is not a full-blooded Cherokee, his use of a Cherokee name is a family tradition.

"It helps establish a motive that the CIA and FBI had to frame me for crimes I didn't commit," Waldon told the judge. "It was my Cherokee identity that caused me to be the target of a COINTELPRO."

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