Man who defended self cites incompetence

Published April 7, 2005 12:59PM (EDT)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) -- Thomas P. Budnick says his lawyer's incompetence was to blame for his assault conviction. The funny thing is he was representing himself.

He took his case before the state Appeals Court on Wednesday, arguing that the trial judge never should have allowed Budnick to defend himself against charges of trying to poison a friend by lacing a bottle of beer with nitric acid.

Budnick once filed mining claims on Mars and threatened to sue NASA for trespassing. Such antics should have been enough to make the judge question his competence to waive counsel, his new court-appointed lawyer said.

"This was a guy who had just come out of Bridgewater," said Linda Harvey, referring to the state mental hospital.

Budnick was charged in 2002 with trying to poison friend Ryan Gauthier by spiking a 40-ounce bottle of beer.

Budnick, who claimed he had accidentally given Gauthier a bottle of acid he kept in his garage for cleaning his collection of meteorites, was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to two years in prison.

But he was cleared of the more serious charge of attempted poisoning because the liquid spilled on Gauthier's leg and burned him before he could drink it.

Hampden County prosecutor Carl Lindley told the Appeals Court that, despite his eccentricities, Budnick had "made an effective litigant."

"The jury acquitted him of the most serious charge," Lindley pointed out to the panel of justices who met Wednesday at Western New England Law School.

For more than 20 years, Budnick tried to file and peddle mining claims in such diverse places as George's Bank, the asteroid belt, Mars and the moons of Jupiter. After trying several states without success, he finally persuaded Texas authorities to accept his astral mineral rights claims in 1984.

The court did not immediately rule on Budnick's appeal. He's scheduled to be released from prison this summer.

By Trudy Tynan

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