EATON — An Indiana man previously convicted of assault is scheduled to stand trial on drug charges in Preble County Common Pleas Court Monday, Oct. 28.
Bert Watkins, 40, of Richmond, is currently awaiting trial for possession of cocaine. Watkins was sentenced to 18 months incarceration on July 2 of this year on charges of aggravated assault.
A relative of the defendant reached out to The Register-Herald shortly after Watkins’ sentencing on the assault charge, claiming Watkins had been subjected to racial slurs by other inmates while incarcerated in the Preble County Jail. Watkins’ attorney at that time, Kyle Lennen, claimed to be unaware of these allegations. Major Dean Miller of the Preble County Sheriff’s Department, however, acknowledged that Watkins had been relocated to another housing unit within the jail after complaining about the slurs.
Watkins has also accused prosecutors, and his own court-appointed attorneys, of failing to properly examine evidence in his case. In particular, Watkins claims that, because the drugs he was carrying when he was arrested were “cut” with another substance, there should be tests done to determine precisely how much actual cocaine was present in the mixture.
Preble County Prosecuting Attorney Martin Votel says the precise contents of the mixture are irrelevant, however.
“If you’re caught with one teaspoon of cocaine mixed with a pound of flour, you’ve got a pound of cocaine,” Votel said.
Watkins also says authorities have attempted to pressure him to take a plea bargain on the drug charges, rather than proceeding to trial.
“That is 100 percent not true,” Votel said in response to the defendant’s allegation. Watkins failed to appear for his first trial date on the assault charge in October 2018, according to Votel. He was then arrested at a home in New Paris on April 5 of this year.
“He was on the lam for six months, and then we found him with $3,000 in his shoe and a felony-one amount of cocaine in his pocket,” Votel said. “So it’s curious that someone who claims he’s being railroaded, and wants his day in court, would not show up the day his trial is supposed to start.”
Watkins has parted company with a number of attorneys over the past year. Lennen filed a motion to withdraw as counsel during a pre-trial hearing July 10, citing an inability to work effectively with his client.
“Mr. Watkins and I have had numerous conversations about his impending case,” Lennen told Judge Stephen R. Bruns during the hearing. “It appears the attorney-client relationship has deteriorated to the point where I wouldn’t be able to zealously defend him.”
Watkins’ original attorney in the assault case, H. Steven Hobbs, filed a motion to withdraw as counsel after Watkins failed to appear for his October trial date. Lennen was appointed to represent Watkins on the drug charge after another previous attorney, Kirsten Knight, withdrew from that case.
“I feel like they just want me to sign a plea bargain and go to jail,” Watkins said. “We’ve had a number of disagreements. I keep giving them my evidence and they disregard it.”
Judge Stephen R. Bruns appointed attorney Sam Borst to represent Watkins during the July 10 hearing, but warned the defendant this would be his last opportunity to make use of a court-appointed attorney.
“Just because you don’t agree with your attorney’s advice doesn’t mean he’s not looking out for your best interest,” Bruns said.
Another attorney, Daniel O’Brien, officially joined the case as of Oct. 10. Watkins’ trial is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 28 at 8:30 a.m.