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Attorneys for an Indiana man charged in 2 killings leave case amid questions of evidence security

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — The trial for an Indiana man charged in the killings of two teenage girls is expected to be delayed after his defense attorneys withdrew from the case Thursday amid questions about security of evidence.

Special Judge Fran Gull said during a scheduled hearing that Richard Allen’s attorney Andrew Baldwin made an oral motion to withdraw Thursday afternoon. Gull said she expects Allen’s other attorney, Bradley Rozzi, to submit a motion to withdraw in writing in “the next couple of days.”

“We’ve had an unexpected turn of events,” Gull said.

Allen, 51, was arrested in October 2022 and charged with two counts of murder in the 2017 slayings of 13-year-old Abigail Williams and 14-year-old Liberty German. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his trial was scheduled for January.

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Messages left at Baldwin’s and Rozzi’s offices were not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.

A relative of one of the teenagers — known as Abby and Libby — dropped them off on Feb. 13, 2017, at a hiking trail near their hometown of Delphi, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Indianapolis. They were reported missing that evening after they didn’t show up at a meeting place to be picked up. Their bodies were found the next day in a rugged, heavily wooded area near the trail.

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The killings have haunted Delphi, a city of about 3,000 where Allen worked at a drugstore, and the case has been closely watched in the state and nationwide.

Gull originally ordered Thursday’s hearing to discuss future court proceedings and dozens of media personnel and other onlookers gathered, anticipating a rare update in the case. But it was effectively canceled by the attorneys’ withdrawal.

Allen was not brought into the courtroom.

Gull said she will ask to appoint a new public defense attorney for Allen and hopes to hold a planned hearing Oct. 31. But she said it won’t be possible to keep the Jan. 8 trial date she previously set.

“I don’t believe counsel will be prepared within the next couple of months to try a case of this magnitude in January,” she said.

Gull did not give any indication of why the defense attorneys withdrew from the case. However, a memorandum filed Thursday by an attorney representing Baldwin said authorities are investigating three people suspected as “disseminators” of information tied to the case. The document said Baldwin was not among them but was “betrayed” by a friend who had access to his office space.

The memorandum did not provide more detail but said Baldwin had since kept items related to the case “locked in a room or a locked fireproof file cabinet.”

Baldwin’s representation, David R. Hennessy, declined to comment further when reached by email.

“Attorney Baldwin did nothing wrong. He was snookered and abused,” Hennessy said in the memorandum.

Asked whether the agency is investigating improper access of case materials, an Indiana State Police representative said it will not comment and cited a gag order on the case.

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Gull issued the order in December 2022, barring attorneys, law enforcement officials, court personnel, the coroner and the girls’ family members from commenting on the case to the public or the media in any form, including social media. Prosecutors had sought the order, citing intense public scrutiny and media attention. Gull was brought in as a special judge to oversee the case after a Carroll County judge recused himself.

Court documents released in June said that the teens’ “wounds were caused by a sharp object,” the first time authorities have indicated how they died. Those documents also included a filing by prosecutors that said Allen confessed multiple times to the killings in a phone call to his wife, which was later transcribed by authorities.

Allen’s attorneys argued in court documents filed in September that the girls were killed by members of a pagan Norse religion and white nationalist group known as the Odinists as part of a ritual sacrifice. The prosecutor overseeing the case dismissed the theory as a “fanciful defense” made for social media.

The defense also said in a court filing that law enforcement lied or omitted information to obtain a search warrant for Allen’s house, the Journal & Courier reported.

Carroll County Prosecutor Nicholas McLeland denied those claims in a separate filing. He also wrote that when investigators obtained the search warrant in October 2022 they believed there was a chance Allen “would destroy crucial evidence in the investigation” if he knew he was suspected in the killings.

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Associated Press reporter Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed.