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Accused killer Perkins asks appeals court to remove judge from his case

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of August 26, 2021)

Accused killer and former South Beach resident Asbury Lee Perkins, determined to have Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn removed from his case before the upcoming murder trial, has asked an appeals court to intervene.

Perkins, who is representing himself from the Indian River County Jail where he’s been in custody since November 2015, filed a handwritten Petition of Prohibition with the 4th District Court of Appeals that covers Indian River County. Perkins filed the appeal after Vaughn denied a motion by Perkins to have Vaughn disqualify and remove himself from the case. Perkins argues that Vaughn has failed to issue orders formalizing his rulings on matters critical to the defense’s preparation for trial.

The type of petition Perkins filed with the appeals court is not the typical appeal a defendant might file after a conviction if he or she felt a judge ruled unfairly on motions, objections or the admissibility of evidence at trial.

The Florida Bar says, “A writ of prohibition enables an appellate court to prevent a lower tribunal from further exercising jurisdiction in an action. Generally, it cannot be used to remedy an act that has already happened.”

In this case, Perkins hopes to prevent a potentially unfair trial that has not happened yet by having Vaughn removed, based upon things Perkins alleges already happened – the failure to issue the orders. “This amounts to bias and prejudice on the part of Judge Vaughn by delaying the pretrial process that could result in an unfair trial due to the defense inability to secure and introduce particular evidence at trial,” Perkins’ motion states.

Perkins claims he has not been able to hire experts needed to work on the case because Vaughn has not issued the written orders the vendors need to begin working and billing the state.  Perkins, who was declared indigent, is eligible for a taxpayer-funded defense.

Court notes say Perkins’ motions asking for these expenses were addressed in April, but no orders were issued. In May, another hearing was held with motions being addressed, but no orders granting or denying those motions were issued. In June, Perkins filed a motion to compel the orders from his previous motions. In July, Perkins filed a motion to disqualify Vaughn from the case because no orders had materialized and Perkins could not engage the private investigator and other experts.

After a July hearing, the court notes say, “Judge to submit orders on all other pending motions” but the only order issued in writing was a denial of Perkins’ motion to remove the judge.

Court records show that on Aug. 13, Vaughn once again verbally approved Perkins’ requests to hire a private investigator and an expert to make a digital re-creation of the crime scene at the Seagrape Drive home Perkins once shared with his estranged wife Cynthia Betts, whom police say Perkins shot to death.

But as of Monday afternoon, there were still no written orders issued on Perkins’ motions in the public court record and the prosecutor on the case confirmed that he has seen no such motions.

The state is ready to try the first-degree murder case, which would be the first capital murder case to be tried in Indian River County under COVID court protocols, but no trial date has been set.