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Man accused in stabbing denied request to withdraw guilty pleas

October 25, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - A Salvadoran man was denied a request Tuesday in Washington County Circuit Court to withdraw guilty pleas he made in June in connection with a December 2005 stabbing death in Hagerstown.

Circuit Judge John H. McDowell, who made the ruling Tuesday afternoon, said he would "very soon" set sentencing for Angel Teodoro Villatoro, 36, on charges of involuntary manslaughter and first-degree assault, to which Villatoro pleaded guilty June 9.

Villatoro faces a maximum 35-year sentence on the combined charges.

Villatoro, through a Spanish-speaking interpreter, entered the pleas in connection with the Dec. 10, 2005, stabbing death of Eliezer Rodriguez and the stabbing of his stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, who survived his injuries, during a fight at about 1 a.m. in the 100 block of West North Avenue.

Villatoro's attorney, Stephen H. Sacks, told McDowell Tuesday that Villatoro was defending himself against Cesar Rodriguez when he stabbed him. Villatoro, through a different interpreter, testified Tuesday that he didn't understand he was giving up his right to raise self-defense after pleading guilty to the charges.

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"I also thought when I came to trial they had other proofs they were going to prove against me," he said.

Sacks raised issues about the charges to which Villatoro pleaded, questioning whether Villatoro's stabbing of Cesar Rodriguez connected him with what he called a separate beating and stabbing of Eliezer Rodriguez.

Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Robert Veil said Villatoro's pleas were voluntary and matched the facts of the case.

McDowell agreed.

"A plea of guilty to a crime cannot be accepted by a court unless the court feels the defendant is pleading knowingly ... and with an understanding of the case," he said.

McDowell, who presided over the plea hearing, said he remembered questioning Villatoro extensively about his understanding of the pleas.

Villatoro's former attorney, Assistant Public Defender Stephen Musselman, testified that he met with Villatoro several times before the plea hearing and met with Villatoro for several hours before going into the courtroom to enter the pleas. Musselman testified that he explained the elements of the charges and what rights Villatoro would be relinquishing if he pleaded guilty.

Musselman testified that he felt Villatoro understood what rights he was giving up.

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