James Taric Byrd of Penn Hills, already sentenced to life in federal prison for a smorgasbord of crimes, is facing yet another indictment – this time for attacking the very person who was trying to help him in his other cases.

A federal grand jury has indicted him on charges of punching his own court-appointed lawyer in the head during jury selection last year in U.S. District Court.

In retrospect, he’s lucky his lawyer didn’t punch him back — attorney R. Damien Schorr stands 6-foot-5 and likely weighs close to 300 pounds. He could have knocked Byrd into next week if he’d wanted to. As it was, U.S. marshals pounced on Byrd before any more mayhem could develop.

A grand jury on Tuesday charged him with two counts of contempt of court and a count of assault.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon in January gave Byrd life behind bars for a history of violence, rape and drug trafficking.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Conway said at the time that Byrd is beyond hope for any sort of redemption, describing him as an “evil person” and an “absolute menace.”

Byrd is one of the most disruptive defendants seen in federal court in recent years.

Last year during jury selection for his trial, he reared back and struck Schorr in the back of the head. Security cameras captured it all. Byrd later had to testify in a prison outfit and shackles with marshals all around him — not an image a jury tends to favor.

He was quickly convicted on numerous drug and gun counts related to a 2015 incident in McKeesport in which he had threatened to shoot up a house. A search had turned up guns and drugs. Byrd is a repeat felon and can’t have guns, but he did.

Byrd had gone to prison in 2002 and when he got out in 2014 was even worse than before, according to one government witness.

Between 2014 and his arrest in 2015, Conway said Byrd went on a crime rampage that included raping three women, kidnapping, assaults on women and numerous threats, some of which were recorded on jail calls.

Byrd also unleashed venom on court officers at his arraignment in 2018 and later refused to be sworn to answer questions, instead hurling vulgarities and insults.

At another hearing in 2019, he unleashed more vitriol.

Conway, a veteran prosecutor, said he’s never seen a defendant act worse.

When Byrd insisted on representing himself, the judge ordered a hearing on that request, but Byrd refused to come out of his cell. The marshals had to put him in restraints to secure his attendance at his own hearing. He also had to wear restraints at a competency hearing.

In later proceedings, Byrd told the marshals that he intended to urinate in the courtroom if they forced him to go to court.

Byrd also threatened people while being held in the Allegheny County Jail, in addition to uttering racial slurs, making sexual comments toward a nurse and threatening to throw urine on a jail officer.

The marshals said he also caused them repeated trouble, at one point smacking his head against a plane window at the Raleigh-Durham Airport. The marshals had to use a stun gun on him that time.

As for the lawyer punch, Byrd and Schorr had many disagreements during the case. During jury selection in July 2022, Schorr had his back to Byrd. The defendant clocked him from behind in what Conway called a “cowardly” attack.

It was only Schorr’s sheer size that prevented him from being hurt, Conway said.

“The message from the court should be clear,” Conway said at sentencing. “The court will not tolerate assaults on defense counsel, and every defendant from this case forward should know that courts will punish such conduct severely.”

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.

Torsten Ove

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.