LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A judge ruled Thursday that a homeless man charged with fatally stabbing a 24-year-old UCLA grad student inside a Hancock Park furniture store can no longer act as his own attorney after an outburst in court.
Superior Court Judge Mildred Escobedo revoked Shawn Laval Smith's right to represent himself during his upcoming trial following a contentious hearing in which he directed profanities at the judge during his first appearance before her and abruptly rose from his seat in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
The judge subsequently noted that Smith had been removed from the courtroom and that she had instructed the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department that he would probably have to be brought to court in a security chair.
Smith -- who is awaiting trial for the Jan. 13, 2022, killing of Brianna Kupfer -- will now be represented by defense attorney Robert Haberer, who had been appointed earlier as his stand-by counsel in case of a change in the defendant's ability to represent himself.
Los Angeles police Lt. John Radke said last year that Kupfer "sent a text to a friend letting her know that there was someone inside the location that was giving her a bad vibe."
"Regrettably, that person did not see the text immediately," he said.
The victim's body was found in the store by a customer about 15 minutes after the text was sent, with Radke saying that the attack appeared to be completely random and unprovoked.
Smith was allegedly seen on surveillance video walking away from the store through a rear alley. He was also spotted shopping at other stores before and after the killing, police said.
He was arrested just under a week later in Pasadena after a weeklong manhunt fueled by $250,000 in reward money.
Smith, now 33, was initially charged in January 2022 with murder and a knife use allegation for the slaying of Kupfer, who was attacked while working alone inside the Croft House boutique furniture store in the 300 block of North La Brea Avenue.
He was indicted last November on the murder charge and the knife allegation, along with the special circumstance allegation of murder while lying in wait.
Smith could face a potential life prison term without the possibility of parole if he is convicted as charged.
Prosecutors have opted not to seek the death penalty against Smith. District Attorney George Gascón issued a directive shortly after he took office in December 2020 that "a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case."
Dozens of people gathered outside the furniture store for a vigil celebrating Kupfer's life and decrying the senselessness of her death.
"Bri was the brightest part of anyone's day who got to interact with her," Alex Segal, a co-owner of the Croft House furniture store, said then. "She was smart and capable and intelligent. Kind and friendly and just an incredibly driven person."
Segal said the community is asking "why is this happening," but said "I don't know that there ... will ever be a sufficient answer to that question."
Media reports indicated that Smith has an extensive criminal history dating back more than a decade, with more than a dozen arrests in three states.