Arizona officials say a murder suspect who used language reminiscent of that employed by antigovernment “sovereign” citizens during court appearances must undergo a mental competency exam before returning to court, the Arizona Republic reported yesterday.
Michael Lee Crane, 31, of Mesa, Ariz., pleaded not guilty yesterday to three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, two count of armed robbery, and several counts of arson and theft. He is accused of killing Lawrence and Glenna Shapiro in their home in Paradise Valley, Ariz., home on Jan. 30, then setting fire to the couple’s home in an attempt to conceal the crime.
Crane, who previously served time in prison in Arizona, also has been identified as a suspect in the gunshot murder of Phoenix cigar salesman Bruce Gaudet. Gaudet was found shot to death in his home, which was burned down just a few days before the Shapiros were killed.
An alleged accomplice whose name has not yet been released is also being held in connection with Gaudet’s murder.
Addressing Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Brian Rees yesterday, Crane spelled out his name in upper- and lower-case letters. He also spelled out his name at his initial court appearance on Feb. 15 and said he didn’t want court-appointed counsel. Sovereign citizens often wish to act as their own lawyers and frequently punctuate their names in unusual ways, occasionally using all capital letters or hyphens and colons in the mistaken notion that the practice somehow sets them free from government regulation and control.
In a statement to the judge during his Feb. 15 appearance, Crane delivered a rather garbled version of typical sovereign rhetoric: “I would like to reserve my right to Uniform Commercial Code 1-207 and Uniform Commercial Code 1-103,” he said. Sovereigns frequently cite the commercial code in the belief that there’s a contract of some sort between the government and its citizens.
“The Uniform Commercial Code does not apply to criminal proceedings, sir,” the judge told Crane.
“It is a commercial affair, that correct?” he responded.
“This is a criminal proceeding, sir,” the judge said again, before Crane was heard muttering, “Mmm, okay, that’s what you say.”
Officials say there is no indication that Crane was previously involved in the sovereign citizens movement.
“He spent time in prison and there is the feeling on our end that this is one of the tricks he’s learned in prison,” Jerry Cobb, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office told Hatewatch. “He’s not somebody that has targeted law enforcement or gone after government. There has been nothing in the previous cases that he’s been involved in that indicate he has any formal association with the sovereign citizen movement.”
The case against Crane is based, at least part, on statements provided to police by one of five co-defendants arrested on related, non-murder charges, the Arizona Republic reported.