Lexter Williams, a fugitive home invader, should have been allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial, and he was improperly given what amounts to a life prison term, his lawyer, Louis M. DeFabio, told the 7th District Court of Appeals.
Ralph Rivera, an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor, said Wednesday, however, that Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court properly exercised her discretion in denying Williams’ plea-withdrawal request and that any discrepancies in computation of his sentence are easily correctable clerical errors.
Judge Sweeney freed Williams from jail on his own recognizance under electronically monitored house arrest after he pleaded guilty, with the understanding he faced a 13-year prison term if he showed up for sentencing, Rivera said.
Rivera said the judge clearly warned Williams, however, he could be imprisoned for as long as 95 years if he didn’t show up.
Williams was arrested in Philadelphia and returned to Youngstown after failing to appear for his scheduled sentencing.
Jay Macejko, former Youngstown prosecutor, raised Williams’ disappearance as an issue in Macejko’s unsuccessful attempt to unseat county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains in this year’s Democratic primary.
Williams, 32, of Kendis Circle, had pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated robbery, four counts of kidnapping, two counts of aggravated burglary and one count of gross sexual imposition with firearm specifications and to being a felon with a gun.
The armed home invasion occurred Jan. 22, 2009, in the 100 block of Livingston Street on the East Side.
After his return to Youngstown, Williams made his plea-withdrawal request, and Judge Sweeney denied it before sentencing him.
DeFabio said no harm would have been done to anyone if Williams and his lawyer had been given one to three weeks to draft a thorough plea-withdrawal motion.
Williams wanted to withdraw his plea at that point only because he knew he was facing the equivalent of a life prison term, Rivera said.
At the very least, the case should be sent back to Judge Sweeney for re-sentencing because the sentencing hearing and written judgment entry of sentencing issued six months later allow for three different calculations of Williams’ sentence: 931/2, 891/2 or 831/2 years, DeFabio said.
“It’s very hard for us to figure out what the heck she intended,” Judge Cheryl Waite said of Judge Sweeney. The appeals court needs to decide whether the discrepancy was “merely a clerical error” or “mass confusion,” Judge Waite added.
With Williams now in the Mansfield Correctional Institution, state prison records show his sentence as 831/2 years.
The appellate panel will rule at a later date.