Klapheke case: New attorney appointed, trial to be delayed at least four months


ABILENE, Texas - Judge Lee Hamilton of the 104 th District Court on Tuesday granted a request to replace Tiffany Klapheke's legal counsel and agreed to delay the start of her trial for at least another four months.

Klapheke, 23, was arrested Aug. 28, 2012 after she called 911 the day before to report her toddler, Tamryn, was unresponsive at their home on Dyess Air Force Base. According to an autopsy, the toddler was malnourished and dehydrated.

Klapheke's upcoming trial for one count of first-degree felony injury to a child was set to begin Monday, Sept. 30. However, Klapheke sent letters to Hamilton this week asking him to withdraw her court-appointed attorney David Thedford and his court-appointed assistant Ken Leggett from the case.

Tina Romano, who adopted an 8-year-old Klapheke, recently recruited Houston-based attorney George Parnham to represent Klapheke.

In 2006, Parnham represented Andrea Yates who drowned her five children one-by-one in the family bathtub. In a re-trial, Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity and subsequently admitted to a mental health facility.

"I think Tiffany has a very difficult history and I think probably a lot of people are misinformed about her case," Romano said. "I adopted her and I love her just as any mother loves her child."

Romano has agreed to pay for Parnham's services.

On Monday, Parnham filed a "motion to substitute counsel contingent upon the court's ruling granting motion for continuance."

Hamilton denied Klapheke's request to withdraw Thedford and Leggett because he deemed them to be competent and well-prepared for her case; however, Hamilton granted Parnham's motion for substitution and granted a 120-day continuance in the trial.

Local attorney John Young will assist Parnham in the case.

"We are pleased that the court continued the case there are some significant and difficult mental health issues in this case," Young said.

One matter brought to Hamilton's attention prior to his decision was the fact that having court-appointed attorneys represent Klapheke would cost the county a substantial sum of money.

"I think it's an appropriate ruling. I think that any person who is accused has the right to say who their lawyer is and if Tiffany wants another lawyer that's her prerogative," Thedford said.

In his motion for substitution, Parnham said he believed Klapheke's court-appointed attorneys weren't aware Klapheke's birth mother and birth family suffer from "substantial mental health infirmities." He also said he believes Klapheke herself could suffer from the same issues and may have influenced her conduct leading up to Tamryn's death.

The previous story:

Though 23-year-old Tiffany Klapheke's trial is just days away, she has sent letters to the district judge who will oversee her case to request permission to seek new legal counsel.

According to an autopsy, Klapheke's toddler Tamryn died of malnourishment and dehydration in August 2012 at their home on Dyess Air Force Base. Klapheke's trial is set to begin Monday, Sept. 30.

Currently, David Thedford is her court-appointed attorney and Ken Leggett is assisting Thedford. Klapheke is charged with first degree felony injury to a child.

In an exclusive conversation with KTXS at the Taylor County Jail Monday afternoon, Klapheke said she wants the public to know she hopes to get a continuance in her trial to find new legal representation. She said she wants to seek an attorney who specializes in mental health cases since she has mental health records that date back to before she was 5-years-old.

Thedford told KTXS he is "honored and proud" to be representing Klapheke and he wants to continue to do so. He also said he has taken an extensive look at her mental health records.

Klapheke and all attorneys involved underwent a pre-trial hearing at 10:30 a.m. Monday in the 104 th District Court under Judge Lee Hamilton.

A heated debate ensued about how the 1960s Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland will affect the gathering of evidence in Klapheke's case.

"There's a duty imposed on the government to seek out evidence that might be favorable to an accused and that's the evidence we feel like maybe has not been looked for," Thedford said.

"Favorable," or exculpatory, evidence could include evidence that can reduce potential punishment or clear a defendant's name.

Thedford made motions for Taylor Co. District Attorney James Eidson to collect evidence such as files concerning Klapheke's behavior in the two weeks leading up to her toddler Tamryn's death.

Eidson said he did not have that information from Dyess Air Force Base; however, Thedford and Leggett said the state has more resources at its disposal to look into matters like that.

"We feel like we're entitled to know what Dyess may have in their files regarding this case," Thedford said.

Leggett said they think the Air Force has evidence of interest due to the pending military case against Senior Airman Christopher Perez who was allegedly a resident of the Klapheke home when Tamryn died.

"We want the jury to hear everything involved and come to a fair verdict," Thedford said. "That's all we're after."

A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in response to Klapheke's request for a new attorney.