The attorneys for former DeKalb County School Superintendent Crawford Lewis and the lawyers who prosecuted him agree that Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker breached a negotiated plea that Lewis would be sentenced to probation rather than jail. according to a motion filed with the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Just two weeks before he was to go on trial last fall for racketeering and theft, Lewis sought to avoid the risk of up to 65 years in prison by pleading guilty to obstructing the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office investigation into spending and school construction contracts.
Pat Reid, the district’s former chief operating officer, was convicted of racketeering and theft and sentenced to 15 years in prison and 12 years probation. Tony Pope was sentenced to eight years in prison and 10 years probation for his racketeering convictions.
The agreement was that Lewis would be sentenced to probation. Instead Becker ordered him to spend 12 months in jail because she said she doubted his testimony and she was disturbed by what he said from the stand. Lewis testified to the problems he saw with the district’s construction projects but did nothing to stop Reid from sending business to her husband Pope or to firms affiliated with him.
“The words I heard out of his (Lewis’) mouth when he testified, and I took notes, are the basis for the court’s sentence,” Becker said on Dec. 9 when she sentenced Lewis and then Reid and Pope.
The DeKalb District Attorney’s Office noted in a petition to the Georgia Court of Appeals “It appears clear from the record before this court that on Oct. 16, 2013, the trial court bound itself to the plea agreement.”
“It appears equally clear on the record that Lewis was never given an opportunity to withdraw his plea ‘as a matter of right.’ … It appears clear that on Dec. 9, 2013, the trial court breached the negotiated promises that had been ratified and certified by the trial court on Oct. 16, 2013, both verbally and in writing,” DeKalb prosecutors wrote.
After she pronounced sentence, Becker stressed that Lewis could withdraw his guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge but that would mean he would again be facing one racketeering charge and three counts of theft by taking by a government official and up to 65 years in prison if he were convicted.
Becker also said Lewis’ testimony against Reid and Pope could be used against him.
Becker did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
Legal experts say judges are not obligated to accept a plea.
The DA writes in the motion that Becker had the authority to reject the plea agreement but only after she told Lewis that she was not obligated to sentence him according to the agreement or that she planned to reject prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation.
Moments after he was ordered to jail, Lewis was handcuffed and taken away, and Becker refused to allow a bond. She then scheduled a hearing on his lawyers’ motion to withdraw the plea for more than a week later, after she returned from vacation. The Georgia Court of Appeals said, however, bond is mandatory in misdemeanor cases, and Lewis was released after spending five days in the DeKalb County Jail.
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