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CROWN POINT — James A. Lohnes, who is accused of strangling two women at their Calumet Township residence, said at a court hearing Thursday the county's public defender "destroyed my entire defense" and requested to represent himself at trial.

Lohnes, 47, of Crown Point, appeared Thursday in Lake Criminal Court on two murder charges in the strangling of Velia Taneff, 86, and her daughter, Lana Taneff, 63, on Jan. 17, 2016, at their property in the 2300 block of West 44th Avenue. 

Lohnes is also charged with auto theft on allegations he stole the older woman's vehicle after the murder and drove it to Montpelier, Ohio, where he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, records state. 

Lohnes said at Thursday's hearing he wanted to address a grievance with Judge Samuel L. Cappas and then launched into a tirade against Lake County Public Defender Marce Gonzalez Jr.

He accused Gonzalez of firing his defense mitigation specialist and second defense attorney, Arlington Foley, in retaliation for a disciplinary complaint he filed against Gonzalez.

“Marce is controlling everything that is going on,” he claimed, adding later. “He destroyed my entire defense.”

He also accused the jail's medical staff of causing him to have a heart attack earlier this year by failing to provide him his medication. He said Foley and the mitigation specialist were investigating the claim before they were removed from the case.

Lohnes said John Maksimovich, his remaining defense attorney, was a “good guy,” but he did not feel he could handle the case.

Cappas thanked Lohnes for the information, but told him he could not fire Maksimovich. Lohnes then said he wanted to represent himself at trial, which Cappas refused to allow due to his mental health issues.

“Everyone has mental health issues,” Lohnes retorted.

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Lohnes was ordered in July 2017 to be treated at a mental institution after court-appointed doctors determined he was not fit to stand trial on the murder charges. State officials informed the court in January that Lohnes had attained the ability to understand court proceedings and assist in his defense.

A request by Lohnes to remain incarcerated at the Lake County Jail's mental health unit was denied in February.

Foley withdrew from the case in June, court records state.

Foley and Maksimovich both represented Lohnes on behalf of the conflicts division of the public defender's office, a “Chinese wall” division separate from the larger office to avoid conflicts of interest. William Padula is supervisor of the conflicts division.

Lohnes' litany was also outlined in a July 30 letter he mailed to The Times. In the letter, he claims he had an “entire slew” of petitions he sent to the federal court that never arrived there due to sabotage.

Gonzalez said Thursday he was “ethically precluded” from commenting on Lohnes' allegations.

A new court hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25. 

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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.