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YOUNGSTOWN Accused changes mind, wants to change plea



Published: Wed, July 31, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Once the suspect got the green light to talk to the judge, he refused to stop.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Germaine Flakes left the courtroom Tuesday loudly proclaiming his innocence.

"I'm a victim of bad circumstances," the 20-year-old East Ravenwood Avenue man shouted as Mahoning County deputies hauled him away. "I didn't commit this crime, and I'm not going to prison for it."

Flakes was taken to the Mahoning County Jail, but not because he was found guilty. He's awaiting trial for a charge of aggravated robbery.

Six weeks ago, Flakes couldn't stand the thought of going through a second trial on the charge -- the first one ended in a hung jury -- so he pleaded guilty. He is in jail awaiting sentencing.

After mulling his decision, though, Flakes changed his mind and filed a self-written motion in June asking Judge Maureen A. Cronin to allow him to withdraw the plea. He was in court Tuesday for a hearing on that motion.

Speaking out

The judge admonished Flakes three times for speaking out of turn. Once she did give him a chance to talk, he refused to stop, even despite Judge Cronin's repeated orders to do so.

"That's it. Get him out of here," the judge said as Flakes continued shouting that he'd been denied a fair trial. Deputy sheriffs took him by the arms and led him out of the courtroom.

"I want to be heard," Flakes shouted as he was taken away.

The judge did not make a ruling from the bench on Flakes' request to withdraw his plea, but later ordered that the matter be set for trial in February.

She approved a request from Flakes' attorney, Damian Billak, to withdraw from the case. Billak said Flakes had become unhappy with his work and had filed a grievance against him with the county bar association. The grievance was investigated and dismissed.

Judge Cronin said Billak had gone "above and beyond" his duties in the matter, going so far as to gain a hung jury in Flakes' first trial in February.

Police and prosecutors say Flakes robbed a woman at gunpoint as she was making a deposit in the night depository of National City Bank on Belmont Avenue in July 2000.

bjackson@vindy.com




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