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Lawyer for suspect in 2008 murder of Northeastern student says his client assaulted him in court

The lawyer for Cornell Smith, the man charged with killing a Northeastern University student in 2008, said he is no longer representing Smith after the defendant allegedly attacked him at a pretrial hearing Tuesday afternoon.

Jeff Karp said that 10 minutes into the hearing in Suffolk Superior Court, Smith assaulted him.

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“He hit me,” Karp said. “It was pointed out to me afterward that I was bleeding and had a small cut on my face.”

Smith, 30, is a suspect in the slaying of Rebecca Payne, who was shot in the legs and chest and found hours later in her Parker Hill Avenue apartment in May 2008. Payne, 22, was a senior at Northeastern University.

Investigators believe the killing was a result of a mistaken identity in a drug-related altercation.

Smith, who was indicted in April, is charged with first-
degree murder, armed assault in a dwelling, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Payne’s parents, Virginia and Nicholas Payne, were present at the hearing.

“It came out of the blue,” said Nicholas Payne. “He stood up like lightning and whacked his handcuffed hand on his lawyer’s head.

“It was a pretty nasty assault. It shows the kind of person that Cornell Smith is.”

Karp said he moved to withdraw the hearing immediately and will no longer represent Smith. His replacement will be up to the judge, he added.

The alleged assault Tuesday was a first for Karp.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, and this has never happened to me,’’ he said. “I’ve never had an argument with a client in a courtroom, and I can count on one hand all the times I’ve had to move to withdraw.’’

Karp had been representing Smith for two months and said his client had never displayed hostile behavior toward him.

Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney’s office, said the district attorney is coordinating with trial court security and Boston Police to make a determination on charges.

Karp said he will not press charges.

“If the court officers hadn’t done such an excellent job, I would have been seriously hurt,” Karp said.

Melanie Dostis can be reached at melanie.dostis@globe.com.

Clarification:  An earlier version of this story should have made clear that a spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney said his office is reviewing the matter with the court’s security staff to determine whether charges should be filed.

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