Texas Murder Trial Set to Resume After Shock Belt Used on Defendant Representing Self

James Calvert
James CalvertSmith County Sheriff

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By Tim Stelloh

A Texas capital murder trial is set to proceed Monday — but the defendant has already experienced a very small taste of how an electric chair might feel: He was given a shock in court for refusing to comply with a judge's orders.

James Calvert, 45, has represented himself in the possible death penalty case since 2012, when he was charged with killing his estranged wife and abducting their son.

Calvert was outfitted with a shock belt after Judge Jack Skeen raised security concerns and said Calvert was acting erratically, Reuters reported. The belt was used when Calvert didn’t follow a judge’s order to stand up.

Kathryn Kase, executive director of Texas Defender Service, told NBC News that Calvert appears to be mentally ill and shouldn’t have been allowed to act as his own lawyer in the first place.

“The Supreme Court has ruled: People with a history of mental illness are supposed to show a much higher level of competence to represent themselves," she said.

It does not appear that Calvert has shown that level of competence, Kase said, adding that earlier in the trial, Calvert told the judge that all of his objections “will be phrased as ‘foxtrot.’”

“That’s something that someone with mental illness does,” she said. “That says to me, someone is losing their grip on reality.”

James CalvertSmith County Sheriff

A sheriff’s lieutenant told Reuters that the shock belt is used like a Taser, and it is less obvious to a jury than leg irons and handcuffs. It was unclear who ordered it to be used, Kase said.

Skeen did not respond to interview requests on Sunday, and Reuters reported that he issued a gag order on the trial.

After the shock was administered, Skeen told Calvert that would no longer be allowed to represent himself, Kase said.

But a two-week break, she added, was hardly enough time for a new attorney to prepare his case.

“During all this time that Mr. Calvert was representing himself, he wasn’t doing what a qualified lawyer [would be] doing,” she said.