KANAWHA COUNTY, WV (WOWK) — A public defender has asked to be taken off of a Kanawha County murder case because of a “total breakdown in communication” between the accused and himself.

During a pre-trial hearing for 77-year-old Vestal Harper, his public defender, John Sullivan, asked to be taken off the case. Judge Jennifer Bailey allowed Sullivan to be withdrawn.

Harper requested to be sent to Sharpe Hospital for a mental health evaluation. Judge Bailey did not make a decision on Harper’s request.

According to Kanawha County Court records, Vestal Harper, 76, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges on Nov. 30, 2022. Harper is accused of fatally shooting 72-year-old Nancy Belcher. The shooting happened around 4:36 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022, in the 700 block of Lower Donnally Road in the Kanawha City area.

He was indicted by a grand jury on Nov. 11, 2022.

Judge Bailey decided to not give Harper the option for bail on Dec. 1, 2022.

Harper’s trial date is scheduled for May 1.