By Kathy Finn
GRETNA, La. (Reuters) - A man accused of murdering and dismembering a New Orleans nightclub dancer represented himself before a jury as his trial began in a state court on Tuesday.
Terry Speaks, 42, faces charges that he and his then-girlfriend stabbed dancer Jaren Lockhart to death in the early morning of June 6, 2012, and then cut up her body and threw it off a bridge near the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Body parts began washing up on coastal beaches the next day.
A grand jury in 2014 charged Speaks and Margaret Sanchez with second-degree murder, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Sanchez, 31, faces a separate trial not yet scheduled.
Prosecutors say Speaks and Sanchez went to Temptations Gentlemen's Club in New Orleans' French Quarter to find a dancer who would join them for a private party, and Lockhart, 22, who was the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, agreed to go with them.
Surveillance videos from nearby businesses showed the three leaving the club together.
Authorities say the murder occurred at a suburban New Orleans apartment.
Speaks on Monday told Judge Stephen Grefer that he wished to conduct his own defense at trial rather than leave it in the hands of a public defender.
Grefer, who had earlier denied Speaks' motion to have the public defender replaced, advised Speaks against representing himself but said he would allow it.
Opening statements were to begin on Tuesday before a jury of nine men and three women.
Speaks already is serving an eight-year prison sentence on an unrelated charge of failing to register in Louisiana's Jefferson Parish as a sex offender, as required following a 2003 conviction in North Carolina for having sex with a minor. He pleaded guilty to the Louisiana charge in March.
If he is convicted in Lockhart's killing, Speaks faces a mandatory life sentence.
(Editing by Letitia Stein and Bill Trott)