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Lawyer error could have cost 20 years

FORT WORTH, Texas, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- A Texas woman has been sentenced to five years in prison, after a court cleared up a mistake by her former lawyer that could have put her away for 25 years.

State District Judge Bob Gill ruled Friday that Rebecca Simpson's former attorney, Ray Bass, failed to tell her before her trial that prosecutors had offered her five years in prison in exchange for pleading guilty, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Saturday.

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With a new attorney, Jerry Loftin, Simpson pleaded guilty to solicitation of capital murder and took the five-year deal. Officials said she could be out in less than a year.

Bass did not return phone calls from his Austin office Friday afternoon.

Prosecutor Christy Jack said it's unclear whether Bass will be reprimanded.

Jurors saw a videotape of meetings between Simpson and an undercover Texas Department of Public Safety officer in October 2004. She gave the officer $2,000, telling him to slit Shemane Watts' wrists to make her murder look like a suicide.

After the trial, Simpson claimed ineffective assistance of counsel, saying Bass never told her that prosecutors had offered her the plea bargain. Simpson said she would have taken the deal.

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