TUSCUMBIA, Mo. - Gary Sweet has been in the Miller County Jail since Nov. 8. Prosecutors accused him of killing two people at a Lake Ozark RV park and shooting another. He has no chance of getting out of jail on bond.
Since his arrest, Sweet has gone without an attorney to defend him. The public defender's office in the area, which represents Miller, Cole and Moniteau counties, told the judge it could not represent Sweet due to the office's high caseload.
The public defender's office took on Sweet's case on Monday, in a move district office head Justin Carver said was made possible by the office becoming fully staffed for the first time in 18 months. Brendan McGregor, who worked previously in the public defender's office in southeast Missouri, was hired on Monday, and took Sweet's case the same day.
Carver said turnover in the office's attorneys led to him filing motions to keep his office from taking dozens of cases. With eight attorneys now on board, Carver said the office would go back to those cases and choose which ones its attorneys could handle.
"If it were my son, I would be furious if he were stuck in jail without the ability to get a lawyer," Carver said.
Sweet is scheduled to be in court on April 9.
ABC 17 News has covered the issues Missouri's public defender offices face due to concerns over high caseloads and the possibility of losing their law licenses. Boone County Judge Kevin Crane temporarily assigned all criminal cases the public defender's office would have taken to private attorneys over the issue.
Carver said he hoped to resume work on the nearly 40 cases in which he asked judges to pause due to the office's caseload. With more than 750 active cases for the office's eight attorneys, though, Carver said he could not guarantee that he would stop asking for a conference on his caseload.
"It's not a secret what's going on in the public defender's office," Carver said. "We're seeing a lot of people come into the courtroom and say, 'Look, I don't want to wait on the public defender. I just want to cut a deal with the prosecutor and plead guilty, even if that means going to prison.'"
Carver said the ability to work with an attorney may lead to a guilty plea, anyway, but the public defender can help advise and negotiate any special provisions of probation or parole.