Willie Minor, 58, of Auburn, appears in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn in June 2018. On Thursday, he was back in court picking a jury for his Feb. 12 trial on charges that include gross sexual assault and aggravated sex trafficking. (Sun Journal file photo)

AUBURN — A local man accused of sexual assault and sex trafficking tried to change attorneys Thursday, the day he was to pick a jury, less than a year after he asked to change another court-appointed attorney.

Willie Minor, 58, of 30 Lake St. was in Androscoggin County Superior Court for jury selection in his trial on a charge of gross sexual assault, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. He faces five other charges, including aggravated sex trafficking and aggravated assault, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison, as well as domestic violence charges.

Minor told active-Retired Justice Robert Clifford in a letter that he wanted to hire his own attorney, rather than be represented by the attorney assigned by the court at public expense. Although he lacked financial resources, he said his son had assets.

Clifford told Minor on Thursday that it was too late to switch lawyers in the nearly three-year-old case. He said Minor could keep his court-appointed attorney or represent himself and have a “standby” lawyer assigned by the court should he seek legal advice during his trial.

Minor withdrew his request and, sitting with his court-appointed attorneys, James Howaniec and Lorne Fairbanks, picked a jury of eight men and six women, including two alternates, for his trial scheduled to start Tuesday.

In June 2018, Clifford had declared a mistrial on the first day of Minor’s trial shortly after he asked to have that court-appointed attorney replaced, telling the judge he had felt “coerced.”

Clifford ended the day — and the short-lived trial — when he granted a motion by the defense to declare a mistrial because a witness describing the packaging of a gun entered into evidence made passing reference to the defendant’s federal trial in December, at which the gun also had been admitted as evidence.

The defense argued that the witness’s statement about the federal charge could prejudice the jury against the defendant. The judge agreed, stopped the trial and released the jury.

The courtroom drama began when Clifford was informed that Minor had accepted a plea offer from prosecutors as jurors waited in the wings.

A prosecutor said Thursday that there is no plea deal now.

Minor had also changed lawyers in federal court on a gun charge.

Police said Minor had raped a 45-year-old local woman in 2016, then forced her into prostitution and beat her with a gun, a hammer and a dinner plate.

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