Home News Local news Suspect in Hospital Ground Murder Claims Guilty Plea was Coerced

Suspect in Hospital Ground Murder Claims Guilty Plea was Coerced

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Jan. 4, 2008 — After pleading guilty last month to second-degree murder charges, 18-year-old Akeem Corraspe said Thursday that he was coerced by his attorneys into signing a plea agreement that would put him in jail for 20 years.
During a hearing in V.I. Superior Court, Corraspe said he had never intended to plead guilty to the murder of 19-year-old Paulino Remy, who was gunned down six months ago in Hospital Ground on St. Thomas. A medical examiner's report revealed that Remy died of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen.
"It was the attorneys who were always bringing that plea talk to me," Corraspe told presiding Judge Brenda J. Hollar on Thursday. "I told them I didn't want to take no plea, but the attorney wouldn't listen to me. They were always saying that I ain't have no case, that I was going to lose. I don't think that's good advice."
Hollar disagreed and told Corraspe that he could end up in jail for the rest of his life without the hope of parole — the mandatory sentence for persons found guilty of first-degree murder.
"You also may be looking at another charge for perjury, because when you came up here last month, I had asked you if you were being pressured or coerced, and under oath, you told me 'no, no, no,'" she said. "I tried to make sure that your plea was voluntary and well informed. I don't know what to believe about you."
Under the conditions of the agreement, prosecutors were to recommend a 20-year jail sentence for Corraspe if he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges. After his arrest in early June, Corraspe was initially charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault, using an unlicensed firearm during the commission of a crime of violence and unauthorized possession of ammunition.
By accepting the plea agreement, Corraspe would have also served an unspecified amount of time — which would have run concurrently with the 20-year sentence — if he pleaded guilty to third-degree robbery in another case pending against him. After last month's hearing, Corraspe's sentencing date was scheduled for Jan. 10.
However, Hollar said Thursday that sentencing would not move forward as planned.
"These are serious allegations, and I have to investigate them," she said, reminding Corraspe and his attorneys that she could only withdraw the plea for a "fair and just" reason.
At the beginning of Thursday's hearing, Corraspe's former defense attorney, Sharon Schoenleben, said her client claimed he received "ineffective assistance from counsel," and had also found inconsistencies with a previously introduced witness statement. According to an affidavit filed by Police Detective Lionel Bess, one witness interviewed after the June 1 incident identified Corraspe as the shooter and picked out his picture from a photo array.
When asked by Hollar why he had decided to plead guilty, Corraspe said Schoenleben and co-counsel Mark Wilcynski had talked to his mother about accepting a plea agreement.
"I didn't want to let my mother down," he said. "My brother is dead — I didn't want her to lose another son to jail."
Later in the hearing, Schoenleben said that Corraspe's decision to withdraw the plea could "seriously impact" his "strategy at trial." Schoenleben added that since she and Wilcynski had been involved in all plea negotiations, they could be used as witnesses during any hearing held to investigate Corrapse's claims and might be called on to reveal to the defense confidential information obtained over the past few months.
Hollar said she understood and needed more time to explore "the parameters of the case" in order to set a hearing date. Meanwhile, attorney Stylish Willis has been appointed to represent Corraspe at the hearing.
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