Archived Story

Sextortion case: Defendant wants to withdraw guilty plea

Published 4:56pm Monday, October 3, 2011

Berrien County Judge Scott Schofield has taken advisement a motion to withdraw a guilty plea from one of the “sextortion” case defendants.

Leon Murphy, 18, testifies during a pre-examination for Martise Washington, Parnell Martin and Martell Miller in Berrien County Court earlier this year. (Daily Star photo/KATIE ROHMAN)

Leon Murphy, one of five Niles teen charged in a sex video case in which the defendants allegedly threatened to post a sex video of a teenage girl on Facebook, accepted a plea agreement May 23 and pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct in the 3rd degree and possession of child pornography.

Murphy was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the 1st degree; one count of extortion; and two counts of possession of child sexually abusive material. As part of the plea agreement, the other charges were dropped.

The other defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Murphy has filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and to withdraw attorney Jason Engram as his council. Both appeared for a motion hearing at the South County Courthouse in Niles Monday morning.

Someone reportedly told Murphy he couldn’t use a police report during the trial, which is incorrect, Schofield pointed out.

“…Perhaps you are listening to the wrong people,” Schofield suggested.

Engram said in his 12 years as an attorney, he has seen a police reported omitted maybe once.

“Mr. Engram … is a criminal defense lawyer,” Schofield said. “Are you sure you don’t want to work with Mr. Engram?”

Murphy confirmed his request, and Schofield approved the motion, saying Murphy’s and Engram’s relationship had “deteriorated to such an extent I don’t think it would be fair.”

When asked if he had obtained new counsel, Murphy said he hadn’t.

“Mr. Murphy, you’ve known for some time you didn’t want Mr. Engram as your lawyer,” Schofield said. “You’re charged with some very serious crimes here, Mr. Murphy.”

Murphy will receive a court-appointed attorney — which cannot be chosen by the defendant — until, or if, he hires his own counsel.

Schofield will take under advisement — but did not accept — Murphy’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

“I think you are going to need the advice of your new lawyer,” Schofield said.

Prosecuting attorney Steve Pierangeli said Monday he would like Murphy’s trial to be scheduled for the beginning of November, but that has not been set.

A trial is scheduled for the week of Oct. 18 for three defendants in the sextortion case: Parnell Martin, Martell Miller and Martise Washington. They will appear in court Wednesday to determine whether they will be tried separately or together.

Miller is also facing a second non-related set of charges: one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and another count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly sexually assaulting a 16-year-old female at Niles High School in February.

The fifth defendant, Trey Nichols, is scheduled to appear in court next week to appeal being bound over for trial.

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