CROWN POINT — A man accused of killing local radio personality Velia Taneff and her daughter more than three years ago told a judge Wednesday he doesn't want to represent himself but feels he must.
James A. Lohnes, 48, told Lake Criminal Court Judge Samuel Cappas he didn't think his legal team was doing enough to prepare for his trial, which is currently set for Nov. 12.
In a lawsuit filed July 22 in U.S. District Court, Lohnes accused his latest public defenders, attorneys Nicholas Barnes and Mark Chargualaf, and three other members of the Lake County public defender's office of "conspiring together to sabotage this petitioner's defense" in his murder case and a separate criminal confinement case.
Charges in the criminal confinement case allege Lohnes strangled his male relative, who was working at Taneff's Calumet Township property, less than two weeks before Taneff, 86, and daughter Lana Taneff, 63, were found strangled to death Jan. 17, 2016.
Lohnes is charged with two counts of murder and one count of auto theft in connection with the Taneffs' homicides.
Lohnes said Wednesday his previous legal team conducted two depositions, but he thinks more should be done.
Lohnes previously was found not competent to stand trial and committed to a state mental facility, but was returned to the Lake County Jail after mental health professionals determined he had regained the ability to assist in his defense.
Cappas recently ordered Lohnes again be evaluated for mental competency by two specialists, following a motion by Barnes and Chargualaf. One of those two reports remained pending Wednesday.
Since his arrest in early 2016, Lohnes has filed six federal lawsuits and one lawsuit in Lake Superior Court against jail staff or members of the public defender's office, records show.
Barnes said Wednesday some may view Lohnes' latest federal lawsuit naming him and Chargualaf as defendants as a conflict, but they will continue to represent Lohnes if necessary.
The public defender's office does not view the lawsuit as reason for recusal because the conflict was created by Lohnes, Barnes said.
Cappas asked Lohnes, who stood quietly at the defense podium wearing dark-rimmed glasses, if he wanted to proceed pro se, given his mental health history.
"It's not that I want to represent myself pro se," he said. "It's that I feel like I have to."
Cappas assured Lohnes he was represented by two "very good attorneys" and asked him to prepare a list of what he thinks is necessary for his defense.
"Forward it to your attorneys, and we'll see," Cappas said.
The judge scheduled Lohnes' next hearing for Aug. 22.