Mistrial declared in child abduction case

By Jane Beathard

April 9, 2014

The child abduction trial of Robert L. Fiege ended abruptly on Wednesday, April 9, after the defendant fired his lawyer in an erratic outburst viewed by the jury.

Visiting Judge Steven P. Beathard declared a mistrial and ordered the 68-year-old Fiege to undergo psychiatric evaluation. Beathard said he will appoint a new defense attorney in coming days to represent Fiege.

Fiege was jailed in July 2013 for allegedly trying to snatch a 4-year-old girl from a playground at London Apartments near Lafayette Street. Other children pulled the girl free, then alerted adults.

At the time, Fiege was living in a converted bus parked at a storage area near the playground.

Fiege has consistently denied the accusations, saying he was a victim of mis-identification and sloppy police work.

He protested his innocence in rambling letters to the judge, The Madison Press and other law enforcement agencies. He went on a month-long hunger strike last fall to draw attention to his case.

Fiege’s actions before and after his August indictment prompted concerns about the man’s mental state. One psychiatric evaluation was inconclusive; another found him incompetent to stand trial.

Through it all, Fiege insisted he was sane.

He fired two court-appointed defense attorneys who argued otherwise, then elected to represent himself.

Fiege hired Columbus attorney Jon Saia after Beathard warned against self-representation.

Wednesday’s trial in Madison County Common Pleas Court was well underway when Fiege again had a change of heart.

As county prosecutor Steve Pronai called his first witness to the stand, Fiege stood and shouted that he again wanted to represent himself.

“I don’t want to be represented the way he is representing me,” Fiege said of Saia.

Beathard immediately cleared the courtroom so Saia could confer with his client.

As jurors waited across the hall, Beathard tried to calm an agitated Fiege.

“You have the right to represent yourself,” Beathard said. “But, I am trying to talk you out of it.”

The judge said he expected Fiege to follow proper court procedure.

“You can’t argue. You can’t speak out of turn,” Beathard told Fiege. “I am in control of the courtroom.”

But Fiege continued to ramble — almost incoherently — about evidence of police wrongdoing and witness lies.

Although Saia indicated he was willing to continue the trial, both Pronai and Beathard voiced concerns.

“He (Fiege) is not capable of representing himself,” Pronai said.

Jane Beathard may be reached at (740) 852-1616 ext. 16 or via Twitter @JaneBeathard.