Judge rejects Guthrie's guilty plea

Sunday, February 16, 2014
Lawrence Guthrie

A Cape Girardeau County circuit judge on Friday rejected a guilty plea from a Jackson man accused of engaging in a shootout with police during a June 2012 confrontation.

In turning down Lawrence Guthrie's plea Friday, Judge Benjamin Lewis left open the possibility for him to enter another plea before his March 11 trial date.

Guthrie, 47, a Gulf War veteran and former Marine, faces charges of domestic assault, armed criminal action and assault on a law enforcement officer.

Guthrie had been set for a pretrial conference Friday, but after several conversations with Guthrie, Lewis and assistant prosecutor Angel Woodruff, defense attorney Bryan Greaser announced his client was prepared to plead guilty to three counts of first-degree assault on a law enforcement officer in exchange for a 15-year prison sentence on each count, with the sentences to run concurrently.

Following standard courtroom procedure, Lewis asked Guthrie a series of questions about his age, education, any medications he might be on and what he had done that made him guilty of the charges.

Some of Guthrie's responses suggested he did not understand the process or was not comfortable with the plea.

When Lewis asked Guthrie whether Greaser had negotiated the plea to his satisfaction, he replied, "I'm taking it, sir, but it's not to my satisfaction."

Lewis asked Guthrie what the problem was.

"I think it's too many years," Guthrie said. "I can't help how I feel. That's how I feel, sir."

Lewis reminded Guthrie he didn't have to plead guilty but explained if he went to trial and a jury found him guilty, he could face a prison sentence of 30 years or more.

Guthrie said he has no memory of the events of June 13, 2012, because he was undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and was taking "at least 12 to 13 medications when this all happened."

Guthrie has undergone forensic mental health evaluations by state and private psychiatrists and said Friday he still is on several medications.

The results of his mental health evaluations are sealed, but if Guthrie had been found incompetent to stand trial, the case could not have gone forward.

In court Friday, Lewis asked Guthrie whether he remembered police officers' testimonies at earlier hearings.

"Yes, your honor. That's how I found out about what I actually done," Guthrie said.

But Guthrie told Lewis he doubted some of the specific allegations against him.

He seemed particularly concerned about accusations he had shot at officers, saying his background as a Marine rifle instructor made it unlikely he would have missed had he actually tried to hit someone from 100 to 150 yards away.

"I understand that I fired the rifle. Whether I actually shot at him, I doubt," Guthrie said. "I know I'm responsible for my actions, so I'm here. ... For me to say I would have shot at him and not hit him would be ridiculous."

With no memory of the crime of which he was accused, Guthrie could not say unequivocally he was guilty, but he could enter an Alford plea.

With an Alford plea, rather than admitting to the crime, a defendant says, in essence, "I have seen the evidence, and I believe there's enough there to convict me," Lewis explained in court Friday.

At several points during the proceeding, Guthrie expressed uncertainty about the likelihood of conviction, but he insisted he wanted to plead guilty rather than risk a trial.

"I don't want to go to trial and get boxcarred. ... I'm here to plead guilty," he said.

After a short break, Lewis told Guthrie and Greaser he was not inclined to accept the plea.

Guthrie was apologetic, telling Lewis he was trying to be honest but didn't know what he was supposed to say.

"Mr. Guthrie, I'm not angry with you," Lewis assured him. "I'm not trying to get you to do one thing or another. ... I am not sure I want to take your guilty plea today."

Lewis said the case would remain set for trial March 11, but if Guthrie wanted to come back with another plea before then, he could.

epriddy@semissourian.com

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Jackson, MO

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