The defendant wanted to withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A plea for rehabilitation made by the mother of a sexual abuse victim was instrumental in keeping William K. Smith out of prison.
In a long hearing Tuesday before Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, Smith, 67, of Fairgreen Avenue, learned he would be getting five years' probation instead of 18 months in prison.
Judge Krichbaum wanted to send Smith to prison for his crime of gross sexual imposition, a fourth-degree felony, but the mother of the victim, in her statement to the court, asked that Smith get intense alcohol rehabilitation and treatment for sexual abuse, not prison time.
Judge Krichbaum said he found that request extraordinary, considering she was the one who discovered the improper sexual conduct.
Smith pleaded guilty May 19 to the charge. His lawyer, John B. Juhasz, and Dawn Krueger, an assistant county prosecutor, worked out a plea agreement dismissing a second charge of attempted rape. Smith was allowed to remain out on bond pending his sentencing.
Police charged Smith with having sexual contact with the girl, then 11, in April 2004. The victim told police Smith had fondled her in the past.
After Juhasz contacted Smith on Monday reminding him of his sentencing date, Smith told him he wanted to withdraw his plea and go to trial.
That request resulted in a hearing before Judge Krichbaum on whether the judge would allow that to happen.
Smith took the witness stand and explained that even though his victim accused him of the crime, he was innocent. And because he was innocent, he felt he shouldn't have pleaded guilty and should have his day in court.
Under questioning from Juhasz, Smith said he never told anyone he was guilty. He said he did understand that when he pleaded guilty he would receive probation, not prison time, and that the more serious charge of attempted rape would be dismissed.
He said, however, that even though he agreed to plead guilty, he still felt he was innocent, and he didn't know why he should be charged with any crime because he believed none occurred.
Smith told Krueger he told a city police officer that the victim said she wanted to have sex with him. Krueger, however, reminded him that during the plea hearing, he never said he did not understand any part of the proceedings.
Judge Krichbaum ruled that Smith had competent counsel, that his plea was knowingly and willingly made after extensive explanation, and that the timing of the motion to vacate, which was made about 15 minutes before sentencing, was unreasonable.
Krueger opposed the defense motion to vacate the plea.
Juhasz said he was willing to continue the matter to allow Krueger a chance to inquire of the victim about her availability to testify and if she would do so.
Judge Krichbaum said, however, "There comes a time when something has to be done. You either step in the batter's box and swing, or you leave the bat on your shoulder. This guy had his day in court and had one of the best lawyers in this county when he entered his plea. That has to mean something."
In addition to the probation, Judge Krichbaum ordered Smith to have no contact with the victim or her family, for him to undergo immediate counseling and other rehabilitation, and declared him to be a sexually oriented offender.
That classification means Smith must register his address with the sheriff in the county in which he lives once a year for the next 10 years.
The judge told Smith that if he violated any aspect of his probation, he would put him in prison.