Asst. DA: Confusion over plea deal is a ‘misunderstanding’
The attorney for a teenager charged in a fatal accident told a judge that the assistant district attorney handling the case reneged on a plea agreement.Fredric Winocur, who is defending Dustin Hite, 18, tried to have the case dismissed during a hearing before Judge James Boyd. The judge later denied the motion, ruling that a hearing is required to discuss Winocur’s allegations against prosecutor Vince Felletter.Hite is charged with vehicular homicide – a felony – in the death of Alex Terral, 17, who was riding in Hite’s vehicle when it crashed last June. Terral, a National Merit Scholar and member of the varsity basketball team, died a few days later. The district attorney’s office offered a plea bargain of careless driving causing death, a misdemeanor, which moved the case from juvenile to adult court.But just before a hearing Tuesday, in which Hite was preparing to plead guilty to the misdemeanor, Felletter and the defense disagreed on terms.The sides will return to county court Friday to discuss the plea agreement, and Hite could be sentenced for the misdemeanor. But Felletter said that, in light of Tuesday’s hearing, a trial on the felony charge is still set.Felletter said Tuesday’s development was the result of a communication breakdown.”I don’t want to get into a war with (Winocur). There was obviously a misunderstanding about the terms of the plea agreement,” Felletter said. “My position when that happens is the parties need to step back and talk and, if they can, reach an agreement.”Felletter was not at Thursday’s hearing, which Winocur, Hite’s other defense lawyer, Katharine Sullivan, and Hite’s parents attended. Deputy District Attorney Andrew Heyl represented the prosecution.Winocur told county Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely on Tuesday that he is worried Felletter will pull the plea agreement and set the case for trial. He reiterated that concern to Boyd, saying such “derailing and sandbagging” of the defense would cripple Hite’s chances of receiving due process.Because of Felletter’s statements, “we were not preparing for trial,” Winocur said. May had been set aside for investigations and motions in the case, but “that time has come and gone.”Felletter said it is the responsibility of defense lawyers to remain on trial footing.The confusion occurred because the defense wasn’t aware that sentencing would occur Tuesday, Felletter said, though Sullivan interrupted him during that hearing to say that Hite was prepared to plead guilty and be sentenced. Fernandez-Ely said she needed time to analyze the case before handing down a sentence.”The defense felt like we had a deal. It meant he would plead guilty Tuesday, but we would set it over for sentencing,” Felletter said. “In the meantime we would dismiss the juvenile case. It’s a misunderstanding.”
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