ELIZABETHTOWN — Public Defender Brandon Boutelle intends to revisit an old case before his client gets a new sentence.
In 1999, the Essex County Supreme Court upheld Paul J. Taylor’s guilty plea deal in a 1996 manslaughter charge.
But Boutelle is challenging the court’s handling of that case, aiming to discount the prior conviction at sentencing for the murder of Robert M. Rennie.
In 1996, an Essex County grand jury indicted both Taylor and his roommate Mark Hathaway on a slew of charges in connection with the death of Marcus Chadwick in Moriah.
Prosecution successfully brought second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and five counts of first- and second-degree assault, along with grand larceny charges against the two men, stemming from a drunken brawl off Tracey Road.
Taylor was driving the van, according to court and police accounts, on May 3, 1996, when the fight started.
He got out to urinate in the woods, and Hathaway dragged Chadwick from the vehicle. Together, the two men rolled the drunk and unconscious Chadwick off a logging road onto his face, placed a tree over his body and left him there. Hathaway told police he stole Chadwick’s wallet so no one could identify him.
The Vermont man was found dead about 11 days later.
Facing numerous felony charges, Hathaway pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced illegally, a court ruled.
The New York State Department of Corrections caught the error, which gave Hathaway a “definite” 15 years in prison, even though the manslaughter charge did not warrant a “definite” sentence.
Essex County Court vacated and subsequently re-sentenced Hathaway to an “indeterminate” 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison.
GUILTY PLEAS UPHELD
Hathaway’s illegal sentence drew further attention to details of the case.
In a decision dated July 22, 1997, Judge Jan H. Plumadore reviewed the plea deals as part of a legal discussion. He found errors of law that hinged on “violent” versus “non-violent” felony charges.
Taylor’s defense attorney then was Nancy E. LeBlanc, and the Essex County district attorney was Ronald Briggs.
The judge wrote in his review that defense attorneys offered both Taylor and Hathaway plea deals for second-degree manslaughter, believing that the charge counted as a “violent” felony offense.
But second-degree manslaughter is not defined as a “violent” felony in New York.
And law required that any plea deal for violent felony indictments must contain a guilty plea for similar “violent” felony offenses, according to Plumadore.
“Having determined that (Hathaway’s) sentence was illegal (due to the incorrect sentence) and must be vacated, we now turn to the question of whether the guilty pleas were also illegal, thus mandating (or even permitting) the court to vacate them as well,” he wrote.
“The defendant (Paul J.) Taylor was sentenced to the maximum term of 5 to 15 years as a first-felony offender pursuant to (law) notwithstanding the fact that he had an extensive criminal record including at least one felony conviction in Vermont, which was not a felony under New York law,” Plumadore said of Taylor’s 1997 plea deal.
“Under the factual circumstances of this case, it appears to this (Essex County Supreme) court that reckless assault in both the first and second degrees could conceivably qualify as lesser included offenses of the ‘depraved mind’ murder charged herein,” he ruled.
“Based upon the factual circumstances in this case, manslaughter, second degree, must be considered the equivalent of a class C violent felony for plea purposes, notwithstanding its exclusion from the listing of ‘violent felony offenses’ contained in Penal Law … Therefore, the defendants’ [sic] guilty pleas as entered must be permitted to stand and defendant Hathaway resentenced as a second-felony offender.”
Boutelle apparently aims to raise the specter of how that case was handled, challenging its stance as a prior conviction. The challenge could affect Taylor’s set of prior convictions, as the court looks to sentence him for second-degree murder on Monday.
Find Plumadore’s review at: http://tinyurl.com/l7w98fo.