Incredibly, a judge refuses a plea agreement. Its about time, don’t you think?

Aurora murder suspect’s plea rejected as state seeks stiffest charge
By Tom Olsen on Mar 7, 2016 at 9:50 p.m.

VIRGINIA — John Joseph Plevell came to court Monday with the intention of pleading guilty to a second-degree intentional murder charge in the November shooting death of Julie Ann Hildreth.

Instead, he walked away facing the possibility of a mandatory life sentence.

The St. Louis County Attorney’s Office provided notice that it would convene a grand jury to consider a first-degree murder charge against Plevell, who is accused of gunning down Hildreth, his former girlfriend, outside the Aurora American Legion Club on Nov. 8.

The notice came only after 6th Judicial District Judge Gary Pagliaccetti denied Plevell’s request to plead to the lesser charge that he currently faces.

Defense attorney Bruce Williams requested the hearing late last week. He said the parties had been unsuccessful in plea negotiations and that Plevell was prepared to admit to the second-degree charge without the benefit of a plea agreement. The charge carries a maximum of 40 years in prison, with Williams saying that Plevell could face more than 30 years under sentencing guidelines.

“We simply want to bring some conclusion to the case for Mr. Plevell, his family, the community and the victim’s family,” Williams said at the hearing, arguing that a defendant has the “unfettered right” to enter a plea any time after a second appearance.

But St. Louis County prosecutor Michelle Anderson said she did not receive ample notice of Monday’s hearing and was unable to provide notice to the victim’s family. Further, she said she would convene a grand jury to consider a first-degree murder charge, which automatically suspends the case.

Pagliaccetti also expressed concern that the Hildreth’s family did not receive notice and said Plevell would have to await the outcome of a grand jury proceeding.

A first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence. The charge — the stiffest on the books in Minnesota — can only be brought by a grand jury, which must be convened within 14 days of the state providing notice.

Williams said afterward that he was frustrated by the fact that Plevell, 52, could not exercise his right to plead guilty, noting that the state has had nearly four months to provide notice that it would seek the stiffer charge.

“We were in limbo,” he told the News Tribune outside the courthouse. “We had no idea what was going on, so it was Mr. Plevell’s decision to enter a plea and take responsibility. How often do you get someone willing to plead guilty to second-degree intentional murder where the top of the box is 367 months, and you’ve got the state saying no?”

Gordon Coldagelli, another prosecutor in the Virginia office, said the state was not aware that Plevell intended to plead Monday, resulting in the failure to notify Hildreth’s family. He also noted that there is no deadline for prosecutors to file notice of a grand jury proceeding.

“I’ve been involved in a number of first-degree murder cases and it’s not unusual for a notice of intent to be filed four to six months after the case commences,” he said.

Prosecutors have considered the possibility of convening a grand jury since the early stages of the case. St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin told the News Tribune after Plevell’s Nov. 12 arraignment that the decision would be made once the police investigation concluded.

Authorities allege that Plevell hid behind a shed and gunned down Hildreth with a deer rifle equipped with a scope as she exited the bar late at night. Fellow patrols told police that Plevell was in the establishment earlier that evening and made a number of vague threats against Hildreth and her new boyfriend, according to court documents.

Plevell had pleaded guilty to domestic assault a month earlier; a domestic abuse no-contact order with Hildreth remained active at the time of the shooting.

Monday’s announcement means that a rare grand jury will be convened in Virginia for the second time in recent months. In November, Anthony James Isham and John Edward Isham were indicted on first-degree murder charges for their alleged roles in the April 2014 stabbing death of Harley Jacka in April 2014.

Prior to that case, there had not been a first-degree murder indictment at any of the three courthouses in St. Louis County in more than five years.

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