Friday, September 12th, 2008
State objects to Schwieterman plea
By Margie Wuebker
More than 100 people packed the Mercer County Common Pleas Court on Thursday afternoon, most expecting a negotiated plea agreement between prosecutors and the Chickasaw man charged with killing four men in a March traffic accident.
That did not happen.
Assistant Prosecutor Matt Fox and County Prosecutor Andy Hinders met for nearly an hour behind closed doors discussing the case of 22-year-old Nicholas Schwieterman with defense attorney Scott Calaway. When they moved into the courtroom, Judge Jeffrey Ingraham told the standing-room-only crowd the state objected to Schwieterman's intention to plead no contest to only four counts - the first-degree felony charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Schwieterman was indicted on 16 counts, which includes charges of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs of abuse, possessing drugs and trafficking in drugs. The charges range in seriousness from second-degree felonies to first-degree misdemeanors.
Ingraham apologized to those in attendance saying the court had expected to proceed with a change of plea when notices were sent out Thursday morning.
Fox is expected to submit his formal objection to the change of plea today. He declined further comment, stating his memorandum will spell out reasons for the action, which is not commonly sought.
A change of plea typically occurs when prosecutors and defense counsel reach a negotiated agreement. Sometimes that agreement involves amended charges and/or dismissal of some charges.
In a related matter, Ingraham moved the scheduled trial from Sept. 22 to Oct. 17, saying it would be unreasonable to proceed with a trial given the latest developments. He also set a final pretrial hearing Oct. 19, negating one planned Sept. 16.
Schwieterman appeared to struggle with emotions as Calaway explained what had happened in judge's chambers. He took deep breaths, shook his head in apparent disbelief and then stared at the defense table.
Fox talked softly with parents of the victims - Jordan Moeller, Jordan Diller, Brad Roeckner and Jordan Goettemoeller - before the judge entered the courtroom. They clutched framed photographs of their sons while listening. Many of the people occupying four benches on the state's side and standing shoulder to shoulder around the back and sides of the gallery also held photographs.
Schwieterman reportedly was driving a 1996 Pontiac Bonneville during the early morning hours of March 15, when he allegedly failed to stop for a stop sign at the intersection of Brockman Road and County Road 716A north of St. Sebastian. His car struck a 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix driven by Moeller, who was pronounced dead at the scene along with three passengers.
An expert witness for the prosecution testified at a May motion hearing that blood and urine tests performed in the hours following the crash showed the presence of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana in Schwieterman's system.