DANBURY -- John Heath, who police said concealed the slaying of his wife for more than 26 years by hiding her body beneath a barn at their former home in Newtown, will have a new lawyer when he appears in state Superior Court next week.
Francis L. O'Reilly, a Fairfield attorney, has been named a special public defender for the 68-year-old Vietnam veteran and retired painting contractor.
Heath was arrested by Newtown police last week, two years after the new owner of the property discovered Elizabeth Heath's remains during a renovation project.
O'Reilly replaces Miles Gerety, head of the public defender's office in Danbury, who had to step aside because of a conflict of interest.
None of the public defenders in Danbury could represent Heath, Gerety said, because two members of his investigative staff worked on the Heath case when they were detectives in Newtown.
O'Reilly, an attorney in Connecticut since 1997 and a partner in the law firm of O'Reilly and Shaw, has extensive criminal defense experience in both state and federal courts and has served as a special public defender in numerous cases.
Only a few cases have involved defendants in the Danbury area, he said Wednesday.
O'Reilly declined to discuss specifics of Heath's case, but said his client, who is being held in lieu of $1 million bond, "looks forward to defending himself against these charges."
Even though the arrest warrant affidavit is lengthy, totaling 27 pages, O'Reilly said it "does not establish any direct link between my client and the death of his ex-wife. Mr. Heath steadfastly maintains his innocence."
Heath is due back in court Wednesday, but typically only scheduling and other routine matters are discussed at the initial court hearing after a plea.
One of the first major decisions facing the defense will be whether to waive or go forward with a scheduled June 19 probable cause hearing on the murder charge, at which time the prosecution must show a judge there is as enough evidence to take the case to trial.
O'Reilly wouldn't say Wednesday if any decision had been made.