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Sunday, February 4, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Killer's Hearing Takes Odd Turns -- As Darrell Cloud, Convicted In Teacher's Slaying, Seeks To Change Plea, His Father Complains Of Lawyer's Control

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Leaving no stone unturned, Darrell Cloud's parents have told a King County judge they felt Seattle lawyer John Henry Browne set the tone early on in his representation of their son when he asked them to hold a rock with the word, "surrender" written on the bottom of it.

"I asked him what does this mean?" said William Cloud, Darrell's father. "He (Browne) said, `Give me the control, I make the decisions, totally. You'll do what I say.' "

Darrell Cloud, convicted of first-degree murder for gunning down a man who had sexually abused him for years, claims Browne estimated a "95 percent" chance of winning a rare insanity acquittal and that misled Cloud into refusing a chance to plead guilty to second-degree murder.

Instead, Cloud was convicted last June and faces a minimum of 20 years in prison.

Cloud, who still has not been sentenced, is asking Superior Court Judge George Mattson to find Browne was "ineffective" and allow Cloud to plead guilty to second-degree murder.

The testimony about the rock has been one of a number of unusual turns in the hotly contested hearing that resumes this week and figures to last at least twice as long as originally estimated. It became an issue because Cloud and his family maintain Browne actively discouraged taking the plea offer while Browne has said William Cloud was the most resistant to the offer.

Browne contends the rock's meaning and other testimony in the hearing have been twisted.

He said the small, flat rock, with a white dove and a pair of cupped hands on the flip side, is a serenity or "humbling tool," that he carries with him and mainly uses on himself. He handed it to the Clouds to try to soothe them because they were agitated over their son's situation, he said.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Tim Bradshaw called the rock evidence, "more bizarre than relevant."

Browne maintains he told the Clouds there was a 95 percent chance the trial would end up with something other than a first-degree conviction, such as a hung jury, an insanity verdict, conviction to a lesser charge or even acquittal. He said he kept Cloud and his parents fully informed and the ultimate decision rested with them.

Shortly before Cloud, 26, went to trial, Browne was able to get a manslaughter plea for Gregory Nagel, who was originally charged with first-degree murder for fatally shooting a topless dancer. Using the insanity defense, two different juries were unable to reach a consensus on murder counts before prosecutors offered the reduced plea.

He said he felt he could do the same thing with Cloud's case because it had stronger evidence of mental illness and a more sympathetic client.

A longtime Spokane public defender, Richard Cease, has testified that Browne's percentage forecast fell below reasonable standards. Cease, while admitting he did not have near the information Browne was working with, said he also felt prosecutors had a strong case.

Cloud, who is on medication to control a delusional disorder, testified that Browne worked very hard for him and was a close friend, but that he didn't keep him informed enough to make a good decision.

When asked to characterize the relationship, William Cloud called Browne his son's "Svengali."

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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