Man makes his case to withdraw murder plea
LISBON — Terry Brown, the Wellsville man requesting to withdraw his guilty pleas in connection to the March murder of Scotty Johnson, took the stand in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday to explain his reasons.
Brown, 48, Hillcrest Road, Wellsville, pleaded guilty on Oct. 24 to aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence in the shooting death and dismemberment of Johnson’s body, which was found on a burn pile outside Brown’s home last March.
He had been scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 5, but the day before sentencing Brown’s defense attorney, Jennifer Gorby, filed a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas.
Now with a new defense attorney, James Wise, Brown took the stand on Tuesday saying he felt pressured into making those guilty pleas.
“They made it sound like it was my only option,” Brown said, “and if I didn’t I would probably get life without the possibility of parole.”
Wise noted that could still happen and asked Brown if he wanted to proceed anyway. Brown responded he “absolutely” wanted to withdraw his pleas.
Brown also said he did not feel his first two defense attorneys, Gorby and Terry Grenga, went over all the discovery in his case. Brown said Gorby came to see him at the county jail with a small folder and spent about 45 minutes going over it, but promised to return with more evidence later. However, Brown said she did not.
Chief Assistant County Prosecutor John Gamble questioned Brown about how much time his attorneys and then Judge C. Ashley Pike spent on the day he pleaded going over his plea agreement. Brown said it took about 30 minutes before the hearing and then 10 or 15 minutes during the hearing.
“It was very quick,” Brown said, adding later, “It was a lot overwhelming for me.”
Gamble questioned how thoroughly Pike went over his plea answers, including whether he was satisfied with his lawyers and whether he agreed with the summary of the evidence which showed he shot Johnson in the head in a robbery and attempted to conceal the evidence by painting the basement steps, removing Johnson’s fingers and placing Johnson’s remains on a burn pile. During the plea hearing, Brown had answered affirmative to these questions.
However, on Tuesday Brown said he answered that he did this because it was part of the plea deal agreement.
Wise questioned Brown about whether he has any experience with the court system.
“Zero,” Brown said. “I’ve never been in trouble before. This is the first time I’ve ever been in front of a judge.”
After Brown left the stand, Gamble said he was most bothered by the timing of the motion to withdraw his plea on the eve of the sentencing hearing. While Gamble said he understands Pike had to give consideration to the motion, he said he believes Pike should deny the request.
“He says he was overwhelmed,” Gamble said, “but the transcript (from the plea hearing) doesn’t bear that out. I think he was nervous. Any person pleading guilty to a murder charge would be nervous.”
Additionally, Gamble noted Brown’s request to withdraw his plea does not offer any defense to what happened with Johnson.
Prior to placing Brown on the stand, Wise stated that as long as the motion to withdraw the plea comes before sentencing, such a motion should be “freely given.” At the end of the hearing, Wise reiterated that while the motion to withdraw the plea might have been right before sentencing, it was still before. He pointed to Brown’s inexperience with the legal system and the pressure he believes he felt.
“It’s his decision to make whether or not to plea,” Wise said, “and he is now telling you that plea was a mistake and he wants a trial.”
Pike informed everyone he will take the matter under advisement.