VALPARAISO | After making an ill-fated decision to represent himself last month against a Class A felony charge of dealing cocaine, a Gary man opted Friday for the help of a public defender to appeal his conviction and 38-year sentence.
Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper granted the free legal assistance after sentencing Andrew Watts, 34, to 32 years in prison followed by six years of probation.
The prison time, which can be cut in half or more with good behavior and participation in various programs, is to be served consecutive to any time Watts receives for committing the offense while on probation for an intimidation offense in Lake County.
Harper said the lengthy sentence does not reflect Watts' last-minute decision to represent himself or the "circus" atmosphere he created in the courtroom. Rather, she cited Watts' lengthy criminal record, which includes at least four prior felony convictions for reckless homicide, maintaining a crack house, a felon in possession of a firearm and intimidation.
The judge told Watts he likely hurt himself by dismissing his attorney and attacking his case from multiple fronts that had little merit.
"I think your shotgun approach was off," she said.
Watts, who wore the black-and-white-striped garb of a maximum-security jail inmate Friday and appeared again without an attorney, said his behavior and decision to forgo an attorney were the result of his frustration over prosecutors increasing his charge from a Class B to a Class A felony.
A Class A felony carries a potential sentence of up to 50 years as compared to a 20-year maximum for a Class B felony.
"I felt that it was wrong," he said. "I felt it was unconstitutional."
Deputy Prosecutor Cheryl Polarek said the charge was increased based on the weight of the drugs.
The weight was not known when Watts was arrested at the scene.
Watts was found guilty of selling 4.72 grams of cocaine June 7, 2011, in the shopping area at Central Avenue and Willowcreek Road in Portage.
He struck a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to a Class B felony in return for a 10-year prison sentence, but the proposal was twice rejected by the court.