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Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Judge's new ruling will allow plea proceedings

Schwieterman not eligible for immediate sentencing

By Margie Wuebker
Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Ingraham has overruled an objection from the state in regard to the Nicholas Schwieterman case.
The decision apparently clears the way for a change of plea proceeding but stops short of immediate conviction and sentencing. It concedes that the prosecution has the right to determine which charges the court will consider.
Schwieterman, a 23-year-old Chickasaw resident charged in the deaths of four area teens, had declared through his attorneys earlier that he does not want the case to proceed to trial and wished to change his plea from not guilty to no contest on the four most serious charges - four counts of involuntary manslaughter, all first-degree felonies. Those charges are part of a 16-count indictment stemming from a March 15 traffic accident that claimed the lives of four Maria Stein teenagers.
Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Fox objected to the plea agreement during a Sept. 11 pretrial/change of plea hearing attended by more than 100 spectators. Fox claimed the prosecution is assigned the role to negotiate and not the court.
In the judge's ruling, Ingraham explained criminal rules indicate it is the defendant's sole right to enter pleas to each of the charges. In the event the defendant pleads no contest to any of the charges, the court may accept that plea. He indicated a change of plea hearing would be scheduled if Schwieterman decides to plead.
If the court accepted the pleas, it would have to postpone sentencing in order to preserve the prosecution's right to determine on which charge the defendant is to be convicted and sentenced for each of the four deaths. The judge ruled that the state has the right to elect upon which counts proceed to sentencing.
If Schwieterman does not plead to what the prosecution agrees to or wants, the case would go to trial.
The jury trial has been reassigned to Oct. 17 with a final pretrial hearing Oct. 9.
Schwieterman faces 16 charges stemming from the accident that claimed the lives of Jordan Moeller, Jordan Diller, Bradley Roeckner and Jordan Goettemoeller, all members of the Marion Local High School class of 2007. In addition to four counts of involuntary manslaughter and eight counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, the other charges include two counts of operating a vehicle under the influence and one count each of trafficking and possessing drugs.
The accident occurred at the intersection of Brockman Road and County Road 716A, north of St. Sebastian. Schwieterman allegedly failed to stop his 1996 Pontiac Bonneville at the Brockman Road stop sign and struck a 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix occupied by the four men who were subsequently pronounced dead at the scene. An expert witness for the prosecution testified in May that Schwieterman tested positive for alcohol, cocaine and marijuana following the crash.
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