[Vision2020] WTF?

Art Deco deco at moscow.com
Thu Jun 2 13:01:33 PDT 2011

This is the same judge in the Sitler debacle!   Its time for him to retire.
Judge's decision to nix plea deal in vehicular homicide case shocks prosecutors
By [author]David Johnson[/author] of the [org]Tribune[/org]
June 2, 2011

MOSCOW - Consider Jesse Lee Hewes' criminal circumstances.

Two months ago, he pleaded guilty to felony counts of vehicular manslaughter and aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol in connection with a one-vehicle accident that seriously injured three passengers and killed a fourth.

Last week, the 28-year-old Palouse man appeared in court here ready to be sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison.

But 2nd District Judge John R. Stegner of Moscow refused to accept a plea agreement, saying a minimum of five years in prison was too severe.

As a result, Hewes' case has been rescheduled for trial and Latah County prosecutors said they remain stunned by the judge's decision.

"Highly unusual," Prosecutor William Thompson Jr. said Wednesday.

"I was totally shocked," said Deputy Prosecutor Michelle Evans, who handled the case, including the plea agreement. "I've had other agreements rejected because judges didn't think it was enough. But this is the first time I have ever had one rejected because it's too harsh."

Therra Alexander, 22, of Potlatch, died in the Nov. 21, 2010, crash on State Highway 6 between Potlatch and Palouse. She and four other passengers were riding in a 2010 Mercury Milan, according to court records, when Hewes attempted to take a 35-mph curve at an estimated 80 mph.

Hewes failed a field sobriety test at the scene, according to reports. All six occupants had been drinking at the Silver Saddle tavern in Potlatch, according to records.

Evans said the plea agreement was mediated by District Judge Jeff M. Brudie of Lewiston. She said the mediation took between four to five hours with Hewes and his attorney, Charles Kovis of Moscow, in one room while she and members of Alexander's family were in a separate room. Brudie moved back and forth between the rooms until an agreement was reached.

"The plea agreement called for him (Hewes) to agree to the one count of aggravated DUI, encompassing all three of the (men) who were injured, and a single count of manslaughter," Evans said.

"He (Hewes) anticipated he would be serving a minimum of five years."

But, as a result of Stegner's decision, Hewes was given the option to withdraw his guilty pleas, which he did, and a new trial has been scheduled.

"Now we're set for trial at the end of August, tentatively," Evans said.

In the meantime, she and Thompson said, Kovis and Hewes appear to have been given an upper hand in the case.

"Now he (Hewes) is at an advantage because he knows exactly what the judge is going to do in this case," Evans said, "even if he just comes in and pleads without a plea agreement." Evans said Stegner disclosed in chambers what he thought would be an appropriate minimum sentence, but she declined to divulge what the judge said because it wasn't on the record.

Stegner's action, in essence, leaves all sentencing options open. Idaho law allows for a maximum of 15 years in prison for each of the two counts. In the proposed plea agreement, Evans said, the state and defense agreed to a combined minimum sentence of from five to 10 years, and a maximum of between 20 and 25 years in prison. Additionally, the proposed agreement allowed for the defense to argue for retained jurisdiction followed by a year in jail. Evans said she would have argued against that part.

"He could simply come in and plead guilty as charged," Evans said of Hewes, who remains free on bond. "The judge has already told him what he thinks is appropriate."

Kovis is on vacation and was unavailable for comment.

Hewes' brother, Nicolas Hewes, 30, of Pullman, was riding in the front seat and was treated and released after the accident. Alexander, according to court records, was riding in the back seat with Andrew Arland, David Erickson and Robert Schoepflin. None of the people in the back were wearing seat belts, according to reports. One of the injured, Evans said, will have permanent disabilities because of the accident. Two others are expected to fully recover, she said.

Jesse Hewes had initially pleaded innocent to all charges. When asked by Stegner at a March 21 hearing why he was changing his plea to guilty, Hewes said, "Because on the date mentioned, I committed those crimes."

A cross, adorned with flowers, other decorations and Alexander's name, remains erected at the site of the accident.


Johnson may be contacted at djohnson at lmtribune.com or (208) 883-0564.

Wayne A. Fox
1009 Karen Lane
PO Box 9421
Moscow, ID  83843

waf at moscow.com
208 882-7975
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