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Judge changes mind, says Heather Mack can pay Bali attorney from trust fund

Heather Mack may have any lawyer she can afford, a Cook County judge ruled Tuesday.

And the 19-year-old Chicago woman charged in Indonesia with her 62-year-old mother’s murder last summer wants Ary Soenardi — the Bali lawyer rejected by Cook County Judge Neil H. Cohen last week as Mack sought cash from her $1.56 million trust fund to pay her legal bills.

Lawyers said Soenardi is known for representing “a number of international drug smugglers.” And Cohen said Soenardi has never before tried a murder case. But Benjamin Mackoff, the interim trustee of Mack’s trust, told the judge Tuesday that Mack has insisted Soenardi defend her in a case that could land her in front of a firing squad if she’s convicted.

“She is definitely within his control,” Mackoff said. “She refuses to have any other attorney than Ary Soenardi. And she will not accept any other attorney at this point.”

So Cohen said, “she’s got him.” He approved the payment of $150,000 — in three weekly installments of $50,000 each — from Mack’s trust fund to Soenardi. But he also said he wants itemized bills from Soenardi. And he said none of the money may be used to pay for the defense of Mack’s 21-year-old boyfriend and co-defendant, Tommy Schaefer.

“We can’t protect people from themselves,” Cohen said.

Mack and Schaefer are charged with the murder of Sheila von Wiese-Mack, whose body was found in a suitcase near a Bali resort last year where the three were staying. Their trial is getting underway in Bali. Mack, meanwhile, is due to give birth April 1 to a girl.

Vanessa Favia, a lawyer representing the unborn child, told reporters Tuesday that Mack has named her baby Stella, after a family member.

Lawyers also persuaded Cohen to approve payments totaling another $2,240 to pay for future food costs. They said Mack’s trial could last up to four months — with court convening as infrequently as one day a week — and the only way she can be assured access to food is to pay for it herself. Otherwise, they said it might be stolen.

Favia said she spoke to Mack by phone after court. She said Mack is “well” and grateful for the judge’s ruling. Michael Elkin, who has also represented Mack, said she maintains her innocence.

“I ask that the public again reserve their judgment until a verdict is entered,” Elkin said.

Mackoff and the other lawyers broached the idea in court Tuesday of retrieving Mack from Indonesia so she could stand trial in the United States. But Cohen called that “magical thinking.”

“I don’t have a right to order that,” Cohen said.

But he did have questions about Mack’s deal with Soenardi.

“What’s the contract between the client and this attorney who’s never tried a murder case before in his life?” Cohen said.

Ultimately, though, Cohen said Mack has a right to the counsel of her own choosing, as long as she can afford it. And last week, he ruled Mack should have access to the trust fund von Wiese-Mack set up for her daughter. That trust was overseen by Mack’s uncle, William A. Wiese, but Cohen declared a conflict of interest last week and appointed the interim trustee.

That conflict of interest exists because, should Mack be executed — and should Mack’s unborn baby not survive — Wiese would get all the money in the trust fund, the judge said.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito