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Judge rejects plea deal for burglary defendant
Judge William Syler offered this warning to William Artadi in November: When handing down sentences, he usually went along with plea bargains.
But not always.
The judge showed Artadi the increasingly rare exception firsthand Tuesday, rejecting a deal the defendant made in exchange for admitting his role in a high-profile string of burglaries last year.
Syler told those in the Jackson courtroom that he could not get behind a deal that wasn't appropriate for a crime spree that left dozens of victims with looted homes and ransacked cars. Without the stipulations of the plea bargain, Artadi technically could have been sentenced to a 114-year prison term.
Artadi's co-defendants, Jacob Colyott and Aaron Denson, already had been handed sentences of probation when Syler made his ruling Tuesday.
Syler said that not even five years in prison, which would have been allowed under the deal, was strict enough. Syler said he wouldn't agree to any deal that didn't allow him the authority to hand down at least a 10-year prison term.
Artadi reacted to Syler's decision with one of his own when he signaled his intention to withdraw his guilty plea as allowed under Missouri law. Artadi also said he was in the process of hiring a new lawyer. Lawyer Bob Stillwell appeared in court Tuesday after Steve Wilson told Syler he is being dismissed from the case.
After the hearing, Stillwell was frank about what he thought of Syler's decision.
"Put your son in that situation," Stillwell said. "He's spent six months in the county jail already. The other guys got nothing. It doesn't sound right. He should expect equal treatment."
Stillwell, a former prosecutor and judge, said he could recall only one other instance of a judge disregarding a plea deal. Plea bargains are crucial for a system jammed with cases, he said, noting that more than 95 percent of criminal cases are dispensed of with such deals. To ignore them, he said, undermines the authority of prosecutors to make them and the credibility of defense attorneys to encourage them.
"And do you think what he did is going to affect my ability to negotiate an acceptable plea with the prosecutor?" Stillwell said. "You bet."
Syler declined to comment on the record about a pending case.
Artadi made the agreement in November, pleading guilty to 13 counts, which was reduced by prosecutors from the original 20 in exchange for the guilty plea. The deal gave the judge three options: a five-year prison sentence for all the charges to run concurrently; probation after 120 days of shock time; or a full year in the county jail on the lone misdemeanor charge to be followed by probation on the remaining felonies.
Artadi has been in the Cape Girardeau County Jail since his June arrest, the only of the three who has been unable to make bond.
Syler's ruling also breaks with Benjamin Lewis, his 32nd Circuit judicial counterpart. All three defendants were arrested in June and handed charges that nearly topped 40 stemming from the months-long spree. If Artadi receives prison time, he will be the only one who does.
Colyott eventually pleaded guilty to two counts and was sentenced by Lewis to straight probation in a decision that would leave the relatively minor participant without a criminal record upon successful completion. Denson, charged with more counts that Artadi, faced more than 100 years and was sentenced last week by Lewis to 10 years in prison, but saw that sentence suspended in favor of probation and a stint with Teen Challenge, a faith-based program for treatment of drug abuse. Lewis did offer a stern warning that if Denson did not fulfill his probation officer's expectations, he would serve the time.
If Artadi withdraws his guilty plea, it means the prosecution could reapply all of his original charges, and Stillwell admits that it's a gamble.
"It's his decision," Stillwell said. "I'm just going to lay down the framework and then it's up to him."
Adding the case to the Feb. 4 docket, at which Artadi may withdraw his plea or face sentencing, Syler told Artadi, "I await your decision."
100 Court St., Jackson, Mo.