The two attorneys representing Jason Cote, who was convicted in December of beating a Detroit man to death in 2013, have asked to withdraw from the case.

Court-appointed attorneys Stephen Smith, the lead defense lawyer in the case, and Caleb Gannon filed a motion April 13 to withdraw, even as an appeal of Cote’s conviction awaits action before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Smith, of Lipman & Katz of Augusta, wouldn’t comment Thursday on why they are withdrawing.

The development is the latest in a case that has had several strange twists, including Cote, of Palmyra, mentioning missing Waterville toddler Ayla Reynolds in his sentencing statement, and testimony during his trial about an imaginary friend of the victim who made Cote fear for his life.

Cote, standing in an orange jumpsuit Feb. 12 in Somerset County Superior Court and about to be sentenced for murder, turned to the courtroom and said he hoped his case would bring out the people “who know what happened to Ayla” to tell the truth about her December 2011 disappearance. Cote said the closure for both his family and the family of murder victim Ricky Cole, of Detroit, should invite the same closure for Ayla’s family.

“Somebody out there knows something,” Cote said.

Cote’s words didn’t prompt anyone to come forward in the Reynolds case, and Maine State Police did not take the comments seriously, spokesman Steve McCausland said.

Asked Thursday if Cote knows anything about the Reynold’s case, Smith said, “No comment,” just as he had Feb. 12 when Cote made the statement.

Five days after Cote was sentenced, Smith filed an appeal of the guilty verdict and Cote’s 45-year prison sentence, saying the evidence presented doesn’t support a murder conviction.

Smith said the appeal still will go forward and that the court has not yet acted on the withdrawal motion, so a new court-appointed lawyer has not yet been named.

The motion to withdraw, filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, is two sentences long, simply asking to withdraw and citing Maine state bar provision 1.16 on terminating representation.

Lawyers can withdraw representation if:

• it will result in violation of rules of professional conduct or other law;

• the lawyer’s physical or mental condition impairs the lawyer from representing the client;

• the lawyer is discharged by the client;

• the client persists in a course of action involving the lawyer’s services that “the lawyer reasonably believes is criminal or fraudulent”;

• the client has used the lawyer’s services to perpetrate a crime or fraud;

• the client insists on taking action that the lawyer considers repugnant or with which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement;

• the client fails substantially to fulfill an obligation to the lawyer regarding the lawyer’s services and has been given reasonable warning the lawyer will withdraw unless the obligation is fulfilled;

• the representation will result in an unreasonable financial burden on the lawyer or has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client; or

• other good cause for withdrawal.

Cote’s case, in which he bludgeoned Cole to death with a pipe over a drug dispute, is not tied to the Reynolds case.

State police, who conducted the investigation that led to Cote’s murder conviction in December, also are actively investigating Ayla Reynolds’ disappearance.

McCausland said Thursday there was nothing significant about Cote’s words as far as the missing child case is concerned.

“I think his statement was more rambling than anything else,” McCausland said. “There’s no known connection that that young man has to the Reynolds case. It was the ramblings of a man about to be sentenced to 45 years in jail.”

On Dec. 17, 2011, Ayla Reynolds’ father, Justin DiPietro, reported to Waterville police that the 20-month-old child was missing from their home at 29 Violette Ave.

That report spurred what state police have said is the largest criminal investigation in state history, drawing hundreds of police officers from around the state to Waterville in the immediate aftermath of her disappearance.

Dozens of searches have been conducted — both on the ground and in area waterways — and although police have said they believe Ayla is no longer alive, they have not given up on searching for her. Her sixth birthday would have been April 4.

Cole, 47, was beaten to death July 17, 2013, in Cole’s mobile home on Main Street in Detroit.

The jury rejected Cote’s claim that he had acted in self-defense when he killed Cole.

“Self-defense disappeared when he stood over Mr. Cole and struck him on his head and stomped on his head,” Justice Andrew Horton said when he imposed the sentence. “This was a brutal, savage killing.”

The testimony in the one-week trial was graphic and sometimes odd, including several acquaintances of the pair who said that Cole said he had an imaginary friend named Vern who would tell him to hurt people, and sometimes murder them.

Gannon, in opening statements Dec. 10, said Cote knew about Vern, and was afraid of Cole because of it. Gannon told the jury that Cote heard Cole having conversations with Vern and feared for his life.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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