— The fate of a man federal authorities are accusing of robbing more than a dozen Minnesota banks, including banks in St. Peter and Gaylord, is now in his own hands.
A federal judge has granted a request by Mark Edward Wetsch to represent himself, or pro se in Latin legal terms, as his case moves toward trial.
Judge Jeanne Graham’s order notes that she questioned Wetsch during a motion hearing earlier this month and learned he is familiar with trial procedures, rules of evidence, criminal procedure and the federal criminal code.
It is the latest twist in a case that has had several odd turns, including Wetsch’s decision to back out of a plea deal and an attempt to delay a court hearing because it was during Ramadan.
Wetsch has been in federal custody since arrested Jan. 3 in St. Peter, just blocks away from a bank he had allegedly robbed fewer than two weeks earlier. Police in St. Peter had received an alert that the bank in Brewster had been robbed. They suspected the robber would be traveling on Highway 169 while on his way back to the Twin Cities. Wetsch allegedly had a large amount of cash and a fake handgun when he was stopped in a vehicle matching one seen in Brewster.
Graham’s order made it clear it wasn’t easy to make the decision that will allow Wetsch to move forward without the two attorneys assigned to him. She said she asked him dozens of questions and took two recesses to allow him to discuss the decision over with attorneys Caroline Durham and Reynaldo Aligada Jr.
Her biggest concern was that Wetsch was removing his attorneys because he didn’t think he was being heard for pre-trial motions, including a request to transfer from the Anoka County to the Sherburne County Jail, Graham’s order said. She asked him if he was aware he was making a decision to rely on his own defense instead of the competent and experienced legal team that had been assigned to him.
“And I understand that fully and, if there is any ambiguity here, I want to erase that,” Wetsch responded. “Because I understand going pro se, that will allow me to represent myself the way I feel this defense should proceed and I fully want to exercise that.
“I understand that these two are very competent and capable. I want to recuse them, so to speak, and I want to proceed pro se.”
Graham then explained the jail situation was related to logistics. She also asked him nine more times if he was sure about his decision before granting the request.
Graham’s written order also said the U.S. marshal will ensure Wetsch is provided with a secure box for his legal materials, prayer rug and his religious dietary needs are met while he’s in the Anoka County Jail.