I started looking into a local judge a couple of months ago, anticipating writing an op-ed for the paper about this judge’s previous skill as a defense attorney and how as a judge, he is still a damn good defense attorney.

In the course of my research, I came upon a case that has intrigued me.  These are the facts:

A 17 year old kid (just a couple of months shy of his 18th birthday) escaped a youth correctional facility (where he was a long term-er) with his 15 year old girlfriend,  planning to go to Mexico.  They made their way up Cedar Mountain and went to the remote home of an elder couple who lived cabin near a popular mountain restaurant.

They told the elderly couple (he was a stake patriarch, 83 years old) they’d broken down.  The couple took them in, fed them and sent them on their way.  The kids slept in a shed on the property and the next day, after cutting the phone lines and slashing the tires of all vehicles except one, assaulted the couple, leaving them duct taped.  The gentleman put up a fight, so he was battered a bit.  Still, after a few hours, he worked his way free, freed his wife, and hitchhiked down the mountain to report the assault and robbery.

They stole a car and went to the girl’s mother’s home, where they were arrested the next day and charged with aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and I forget the other charge.

The girl was tried as a juvenile, plea bargained, and sentenced and on her way.  This young man “Steve” also made a plea bargain.

Here the story gets complicated.  He says he pled guilty to aggravated robbery:

1.  to protect his girlfriend who actually had the knife

2.  because he thought the elderly couple were going to lie and say he had the knife anyway.

3. he thought in the plea bargain they would drop one felony and he would only be sentenced in one, further, that the maximum sentence was five years.  The actual sentence was five years to life.  It reads “maximum five years to life.”

He went back to the jail the day he accepted the plea bargain and other criminals said, “no, dude, you could serve life.”  And he immediately wrote a letter to the judge asking to change his plea to not guilty.

 He wrote another a few weeks later, again asking to change his plea and to fire his public defender.

I don’t know how much contact he had with his lawyer in the month between the plea agreement hearing and the sentencing hearing.  But the lawyer came in with him to the sentencing, gave a half-hearted argument in regard to his motion to withdraw his plea, which the judge denied.

The judge did not offer him the right to allocute at the hearing.

Question #1:  Is it the judge’s discretion to allow the defendant to allocute or is it the right of every defendant to allocute?  Was the judge in error?

I believe the judge was clearly in error in not accepting his motion to change his plea.   It appears from watching the video of the sentencing that the judge felt it was apples and oranges because they dropped an aiding and abetting charge and one vehicle theft charge.  If he changed his plea, they would simply add on the other charges.  It seems impossible for him to have avoided a felony conviction.

I further believe that the judge was convinced that it was foolish to have a jury trial in this case, that it would only be delaying the inevitable at further cost to the taxpayers.

 Regardless, he should have had that right.

Now comes the kicker, you guys.

This kid got out on parole five years after he went to prison (2002).  He committed a burglary (which he was purposely vague about, but in his words, not guilty) and was sent back to prison the following year.

I don’t understand the timeline or how he was released back on parole, but he was able to marry and have two children, age 2 & 3, while serving time in the Utah state prison in 2003 & 2005.  I believe the time in 2005 was for the recent charges, which constitute a parole violation.

He is now back in Iron County’s jail where he is awaiting his trial for the current charges, which are: possession of methamphetamine and possession of weapons.  (This came about–and he protests–when, as a bystander at a domestic dispute, AP&P officers searched him and his home, findind the drug in his wallet and a trunk of weapons, including a machete in his home).  He told me the machete was for camping.

He’s been before the judge I was researching several times and made motions to withdraw his previous (1997) guilty plea.  He’s sent countless letters to this judge, who finally agreed to hear his motion, appointed a lawyer to write the motion, and  accepted the motion, vacating the previous judge’s sentence.  He called the previous judge’s actions, on the record, illegal.

I don’t know if he’s going to re-hear the whole trial, but it’s sure a mess.

And I firmly believe the end result will be the same for this career criminal who has been in the system since he was 11 and freely acknowledges many crimes before he committed  the crime against the patriarch and his wife. 

I’m so troubled by this.  Not only the obvious paregoric to the public re wasting our taxes, but also because this kid doesn’t even rise to the category of angry bitter young man.  He doesn’t even know why he’s trying to withdraw his plea.  He couldn’t tell me what he hopes to gain or his hopes for his future.  He hasn’t completed any schooling, to speak of, despite many opportunities within the youth correctional system to do so, and the opportunity in his five years in prison.

He doesn’t seem lazy, he’s smart, but he has no clue of what kind of life he could be living.  Institutions are his way of life.  He can’t see goals, hard work, honesty, common sense.

You guys got any input on this?  I came home just stymied.