(Recasts lead and updates with opening statements)
By Kathy Finn
GRETNA, La., June 16 (Reuters) - A man accused of murdering and dismembering a New Orleans nightclub dancer represented himself in court on Tuesday, telling jurors in his opening statement that he was innocent.
Terry Speaks, 42, faces charges that he and his then-girlfriend stabbed dancer Jaren Lockhart to death in the early morning of June 6, 2012, and then cut up her body and threw it off a bridge near the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Body parts began washing up on coastal beaches the next day.
A grand jury in 2014 charged Speaks and Margaret Sanchez with second-degree murder, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
"When you hear evidence, make sure it actually links me to the crime, and if it doesn't, I'm innocent," Speaks told a jury of nine women and three men.
Speaks' halting 15-minute opening statement was interrupted by prosecutors' objections and comments from the judge as to what was admissible.
Sanchez, 31, faces a separate trial not yet scheduled.
Prosecutors said Speaks and Sanchez went to Temptations Gentlemen's Club in New Orleans' French Quarter on a slow night looking for a dancer to join them for a private party, and possibly a sexual threesome. They were offering hundreds of dollars.
Lockhart, 22, who was the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, agreed to go to make some money, according to prosecutor Doug Freese.
Surveillance videos from nearby businesses showed the three leaving the club together, he said.
Ending up at Speaks' home in Kenner, Louisiana, the couple fatally stabbed Lockhart in the chest and cut up her body, according to Freese, who told jurors the couple thrived on a feeling of power.
"What better way to prove to yourself that you're somebody that matters, than by exercising power," he said, adding that the two sought to "empower themselves by taking another human being's life."
Judge Stephen Grefer allowed Speaks to defend himself, but warned it was a bad idea. A public defender sat by his side on Monday, ready to assist if requested.
Speaks showed no emotion as the prosecution spoke. He already is serving an eight-year prison sentence on an unrelated charge of failing to register in Louisiana's Jefferson Parish as a sex offender, as required following a 2003 conviction in North Carolina for having sex with a minor.
If convicted in Lockhart's killing, Speaks faces a life sentence. (Editing by Letitia Stein and Bill Trott)