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Court orders another hearing

Anthony Johnson failed to receive information as part of sentencing

YOUNGSTOWN — A city man sentenced to 10 years in prison on Sept. 3, 2019, after pleading guilty to two counts of robbery and one of being a felon in possession of a firearm will get a new sentencing hearing.

The Seventh District Court of Appeals ruled last week that Judge Anthony D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court failed to notify Anthony Johnson, 33, during Johnson’s plea hearing on June 24, 2019, that by pleading guilty, Johnson would be giving up his right to require the state to prove each element of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt.

The ruling states that during a guilty plea hearing, the judge must discuss the defendant’s rights with him or her and the consequences of the plea.

The ruling quotes case law indicating the “underlying purpose” of Ohio criminal rules judges must follow during a plea hearing “is to convey to the defendant certain information so that he can make a voluntary and intelligent decision whether to plead guilty.”

The ruling stated that a trial court “must strictly comply with the requirement to inform the defendant of these rights. If the court does not, the plea is invalid.”

Because the judge did not notify Johnson of all of his constitutional rights before he pleaded guilty, Johnson argued, he did not intelligently, knowingly and voluntarily enter his guilty plea.

So the plea Johnson entered is vacated, the judgment of Judge D’Apolito accepting the plea is reversed, and the matter is returned to the judge for “proceedings consistent with this opinion,” the ruling states.

Johnson could take the case to trial instead of pleading guilty again. But if he does plead guilty again, the judge could sentence Johnson to the same 10-year prison sentence or pick a different sentence.

Johnson was the driver in two Youngstown robberies — one Dec. 28, 2017, and one Jan. 1, 2018, according to the ruling. The first was at a Subway restaurant in the city, and the second was at a Family Dollar store.

In each robbery, co-defendant Robert Sellers entered the business alone, brandished a weapon and committed a robbery, the ruling states.

Police later found the sport utility vehicle used in the Family Dollar robbery and found clothing inside consistent with the clothing worn by the robber. Both men were indicted the following month, and Sellers was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the crimes.

Prosecutors agreed to recommend that Johnson get a four-year prison sentence, but he failed to show up for his sentencing hearing in August and was arrested on a warrant. At his sentencing, he got 10 years in prison — more than double the amount of time prosecutors recommended — partly because he failed to appear for his sentencing hearing.

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