By Alyssa Schnugg
A former University of Mississippi student on death row for the murder of a fellow classmate says he wants to appeal his case without an attorney or a jury.
A jury found Steven Matthew “Matt” Wilbanks guilty of capital murder in February 2018, more than four years after the murder of Zacharias McClendon on Dec. 17, 2013. He was sentenced to death after being found guilty.
He was granted a new trial in 2019 after his attorneys claimed the jury was tainted during the jury selection process before the trial and that there was an error in the jury instructions.
In September, Wilbanks’ attorney, Kelsey Rushing, filed a Motion for a waiver from a jury trial. In the motion, Rushing said Wilbanks did not want a jury for the new trial and instead wanted a judge to hear the case.
“Counsel has advised (the) defendant of the consequences of such a waiver and has advised him against it,” the motion states.
Three days later, Wilbanks filed two hand-written motions requesting to dismiss Rushing as his attorney and proceed with his trial “pro se,” meaning he would represent himself at the trial without an attorney.
“Counsel has acted against the client’s desires and has clearly stated a desire to continue such actions, with complete indifference to client’s objections and other requests,” Wilbanks stated in the Motion to Dismiss Counsel.
While no order has been entered into the court record regarding the motions, an official at the Lafayette County Circuit Clerk’s Office said a defense attorney would likely be present during the trial on standby since Wilbanks is facing the death penalty.
A court date for the new trial has still not been set.
According to court records, Wilbanks along with Joseph Lyons and Derrick Boone, entered McClendon’s apartment and Wilbanks shot him in the back of the head with a 16-gauge shotgun while McClendon was doing dishes.
At the time of the incident, both Wilbanks and Boone were also enrolled in school at Ole Miss; Lyons was a former student.
Boone and Lyons pleaded guilty in exchange to have the death penalty taken off the table and are both serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Wilbanks was not offered a plea deal since he was the one who pulled the trigger.
Wilbanks testified in 2018 that the plan was to kill McClendon so they could steal his money, credit cards and other belongings.
McClendon’s murder took place in his apartment on County Road 140 just off of College Hill Road in Oxford.
McClendon, a first-year graduate student from Gulfport, was pursuing a Master’s of Business Administration at Ole Miss. Prior to attending Ole Miss, McClendon graduated from Williams College in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
He was an apprentice for an orthopedic surgeon at Tulane University while in college.
In March 2019, Wilbanks wrote a letter to the court stating he did not want another trial.
“I never wanted to contest the verdict … I do not wish to put the McClendon family, my family or the state of Mississippi through another painful, debilitating trial,” Wilbanks wrote. “I’d rather go back to Death Row.”