The cost of defending herself in a possible death-penalty case could take Donna Moonda from one of the most plush homes in Hermitage to the poor house in a matter of months.

Mrs. Moonda’s defense attorney said Thursday that the widow of Dr. Gulam Moonda will not have enough money to pay the high legal fees inherent in a death-penalty defense and she may need to have a court-appointed attorney represent her.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is not expected to decide for at least a month whether she should potentially die if a jury convicts her of arranging for her former lover to kill her husband last year on the Ohio Turnpike.

Mrs. Moonda, 47, looked more alert and composed than in her earlier court appearances when she appeared Thursday wearing a dark blue Medina County Jail jumpsuit to answer the four-count indictment a federal grand jury returned against her this week.

She had her blonde hair pulled into a pony tail secured by a small black scrunchie and stood with her hands folded neatly in front of her as Judge David Dowd Jr. asked how she pleaded to each charge.

“Not guilty, your honor,” Mrs. Moonda confidently responded to each count.

She is charged with murder for hire and aiding and abetting in interstate stalking, using a firearm during a crime of violence and aiding and abetting in murder for hire.

Dowd set her jury trial for Oct. 23 in Akron with a final status conference on Oct. 4.

Roger Synenberg, Mrs. Moonda’s defense attorney, told Dowd that the possibility his client could face the death penalty puts him “in a quandary” because she does not have enough money to adequately fund such a defense.

“She cannot afford two counsel and she cannot afford everything that goes along with preparing a death penalty defense,” Synenberg said after the hearing.

Mrs. Moonda is paying him with the money she saved from working 14 years as a nurse, Synenberg said. He previously estimated her financial resources at $175,000 and said Thursday that it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend someone in a death penalty case.

Her former defense attorney, Niki Schwartz, is no longer representing her, Synenberg said.

Finances aside, Synenberg said he does not believe he is qualified to try a death-penalty case. An attorney must be death-penalty certified by the state Supreme Court to try a capital punishment case in Ohio, he said, and he has let his eligibility lapse.

If prosecutors decide to pursue the death penalty, Synenberg asked Dowd to require that a death-penalty certified attorney be appointed to defend her. Dowd said he does not believe there is a federal statute that requires a defendant to be represented by a death-penalty attorney.

Mrs. Moonda’s former lover, Damian Bradford, 25, admitted in court July 24 that he shot Moonda, 69, once in the right side of his head on May 13, 2005, in the emergency pull-off lane of the toll road south of Cleveland. Mrs. Moonda and her mother, Dorothy Smouse, were traveling with the doctor to western Ohio that day.

Gonzales took about two months after a grand jury indicted Bradford before deciding not to seek the death penalty against him.

Bradford will receive a 17è-year prison sentence if he cooperates with prosecutors in their case against Mrs. Moonda.

He has told police Mrs. Moonda asked him to kill her husband after they began an affair and that she would split with him the millions she would receive from his estate.

Moonda left his wife 20 percent of his $2.9 million estate and the right to live in the couple’s upscale home on Trout Island Road in Hermitage. The house has been appraised at $550,000.

Mrs. Moonda is being held in jail without bond. Synenberg said she is “holding up strong” under the accusations and is looking forward to defending the charges.

He professed her innocence and cautioned against jumping to conclusions about her guilt.

“All I’m saying in this case is that what appears to be may not be fact. So don’t rush to judgment,” he said.

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