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Rashawn Brazell’s Accused Killer Can’t Fire Lawyers

Judge rejects Kwauhuru Govan’s complaints about attorneys in his conviction for separate murder

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A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge refused Kwauhuru Govan’s request for new attorneys as he heads to trial in the 2005 killing of Rashawn Brazell, an African-American gay man.

“Both Mr. Strauss and Mr. Horowitz have been zealous in their representation of you,” Judge Joanne Quinones told the 40-year-old Govan during a January 9 hearing as she denied his motion for new lawyers.

Following last year’s guilty verdict and sentencing to 25-to-life in the 2004 killing of 17-year-old Sharabia Thomas, Govan filed a motion in December that asked for new lawyers in the Brazell case and accused his attorneys, Joshua Horowitz and Jonathan Strauss, of not sharing documents with him and not consulting with him during the course of the Thomas case. Govan also charged that Strauss slept and played Sudoku during the trial.

“I did not see Mr. Strauss fall asleep,” Quinones said. “At no point did Mr. Strauss appear to be sleeping. He was very alert.”

The judge noted that Strauss handled much of the cross-examination of witnesses during the trial and that he frequently objected to questions. She said she had seen Horowitz consult with him before the start of each day’s proceedings during the first trial and following sidebar conferences during those proceedings.

Strauss said he did not sleep or play games during the trial. Horowitz said all discovery materials had been turned over to Govan and that discussions and written communications with him were extensive.

“Every piece of discovery was given to him,” Horowitz said. “Every single piece of paper was given to Mr. Govan.”

Since his arrest in 2016, Govan has maintained that he did not commit either murder and he appears to blame his lawyers for the guilty verdict and the 25-to-life sentence for kidnapping and killing Thomas. It is common for criminal defendants to blame their lawyers when they are convicted.

“I’m sure it’s a big disappointment for him in a trial in which he maintains his innocence,” Horowitz said.

Govan rejected his first attorney in 2017. Horowitz was appointed then and Strauss was added to the team later.

The 2004 murder victim, Thomas, apparently fought with Govan before he strangled and beat her to death. His DNA was found under Thomas’ fingernails. Her dismembered body was discovered in two laundry bags in an alley in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood.

Both cases went unsolved for years, but in June 2016, the NYPD’s Cold Case Squad and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Cold Case Unit matched that DNA to a sample of Govan’s DNA that was uploaded to a national database following his 2014 arrest for armed robbery in Florida. He was arrested in Florida after his release from prison and extradited to Brooklyn.

After linking Govan to Thomas, police realized that Govan lived across the street from Brazell. Police found that a bag that belonged to Govan and that had Brazell’s blood on it was recovered in the Brooklyn subway station where parts of Brazell’s body were discovered in 2005. Brazell was 19 at his death.

The Brazell case will be before Quinones for a pre-trial conference on February 6 with the trial expected to begin in the spring.

Updated 3:14 pm, January 9, 2019
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