This undated photo provided by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office shows Rodney Halbower. (AP Photo/San Mateo County Sheriff's Office)

Gypsy Hill murder suspect removed from courtroom for disruption

An Oregon prison inmate who was extradited to San Mateo County to stand trial for the 1976 murders of two women was removed from a Redwood City courtroom on Thursday for refusing to recognize his attorney, who then entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, prosecutors said.

Rodney Halbower, 68, is accused of murdering 18-year-old Veronica Cascio and 17-year-old Paula Baxter, whose deaths went unsolved for decades before DNA evidence linked Halbower to the killings in 2014.

Defense attorney John Halley entered the plea before retired Judge John Runde after Halbower was removed from the courtroom for being disruptive, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.

Halbower was telling the court he refused to recognize Halley as his attorney.

Late last month Judge Jonathan Karesh heard a request by Halbower to represent himself. The court denied the request because it determined Halbower was not competent to do so.

Halbower was in prison in Oregon for attempted murder.

Cascio’s body was found on Jan. 7, 1976, at the Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, a day after she was last seen walking from her home in Pacifica to a bus stop at Fairway Drive and Bradford Way, sheriff’s officials said.

Baxter was last seen on Feb. 4, 1976, as she left a parking lot at Capuchino High School in San Bruno. Her body was found in some brush behind a church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints on Ludeman Lane in Millbrae two days after she went missing, according to sheriff’s officials.

Halbower’s DNA is also linked to the kidnapping, stabbing and murder of Reno, Nev., student Michelle Mitchell.

Halley said despite the DNA evidence, the handling of evidence 40 years ago raises questions that remain to be answered in this case.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 29 in Redwood City.

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