Posted by Edmond Geary | Posted in Attempted Murder, Criminal defense, Justice system, Murder, Violent crimes | Posted on 28-04-2010
Joel Stoval filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea in Freemont County District Court in Canon City, Colorado. He had pled guilty to first degree murder in 2001 shootout which left a deputy sheriff dead and another police officer paralyzed.
District Judge Julie Marshal denied the motion to withdraw the plea, She said Stoval’s attorney’s performance “not deficient.” The judge heard six hours of testimony from Stoval and from his attorneys at the time of the plea, assistant public defenders Patrick Murphy and Doug Wilson.
Stoval had entered a plea to first degree murder of Freemont County Deputy Sheriff Jason Schwartz and the attempted of Florence Police Corporal Toby Bethel, who is paralyzed from the shooting. He also pled guilty to 16 other counts of attempted murder for shooting at other police officers at the shootout. He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 800 years.
The shootout had arose when Deputy Schwartz arrested Stoval and his twin brother, Michael, because Joel Stoval had shot a neighbor’s dog and a heated altercation began between the Stovals and the law enforcement officers.
At the hearing to withdraw his plea, Stoval testified he felt like he was defending himself, but his attorneys never discussed the issue of self-defense with him. “They excluded the fact that Toby Bethel was reaching for his handgun,” Stoval testified, at which Bethel’s wife, Mary jumped up out of her seat in the courtroom and yelled, “You are such a #@& liar.” She then left the courtroom.
Murphy testified to the contrary that Stoval had told him, “Officer Bethel did not see Joel because he was in the shadow next to the truck he had stolen. I didn’t see any way the argument of self-defense could be made.” Wilson testified similarly. “I did not think we had a self-defense that we could have sold to the jury,” Wilson testified.
Joel Stoval testified the entire focus of the plea bargain was to prevent his brother from receiving the death penalty. “I had to just take the advice of my attorneys. I had no choice.”
Both Murphy and Wilson testified Stoval did have a concern for his brother, Michael, both attorneys nevertheless thought it was in Stoval’s best interest to accept the plea agreement to avoid the death penalty for himself, especially since they did not know if Bethel would survive. If Bethel died, the chances of Stoval’s receiving the death penalty would increase significantly.
Assistant District Kathy Eberling asked Murphy and Wilson whether they thought their representation of Joel Stoval was deficient. Both replied, “No.” “We spent sufficient time to make sure he understood the charges, evidence and potential of the death penalty. This was a case in which the facts were not greatly in dispute,” Murphy testified.
The irony is that even if Stoval had gone to trial and the District Attorney had sought the death penalty and a three-judge panel had then awarded the death penalty, it would have been overturned when the United States Supreme Court ruled three-judge panels were unconstitutional. Stoval would therefore have ended up with a life sentence, instead of the life imprisonment plus 800 years, which he received.