Bungled plea deal appealed in Ohio

Feb. 10, 2013 at 3:26 PM
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CINCINNATI, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Two killings over a meatball sandwich could lead to an overhaul of the Ohio criminal plea deal system, lawyers involved in the case said.

The story begins with three Cincinnati teens horsing around. Kareem "Little Red" Gilbert was wrestling with Brian Austin and Vernon Davis in 2008 when tempers flared. Austin hit Gilbert with a meatball sandwich and Gilbert shot Austin, police said. Davis, knowing the Gilbert family's reputation in the neighborhood, fled for fear he'd be shot, too, the Cincinnati Enquirer said Sunday.

A few days later on Halloween 2008, Davis' fears were realized when he was hunted down by Gilbert's father, Ruben "Red" Gilbert.

Prosecutors offered the younger Gilbert a deal: In exchange for testifying against his father, the younger Gilbert would receive a plea deal of manslaughter and spend 18 years in prison.

The younger Gilbert agreed and was sentenced prior to his father's trial. Except the younger Gilbert pulled a bait and switch at his father's trial, contradicting previous statements and telling jurors his father was innocent, the Enquirer reported. Jurors didn't buy it and convicted the elder Gilbert anyway.

But prosecutors, angered by the son's deal-breaking, asked Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Winkler to reinstate Gilbert's original charges. Gilbert then pleaded guilty to murder, not the manslaughter plea as in the plea deal, and was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.

Gilbert appealed, his lawyer arguing prosecutors and the judge had no right to reinstate the murder charge after Gilbert had already pleaded guilty.

An Ohio Supreme Court panel ruled 2-1 in Gilbert's favor, saying prosecutors erred in reinstating the murder charge, the Enquirer said.

Defense attorneys in Ohio said prosecutors bungled the case, allowing the younger Gilbert to be sentenced prior to offering his testimony.

"It's to their advantage to hold the sentence over (Gilbert's) head," said Candace Crouse, head of the Greater Cincinnati Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. "They might have just messed this one up."

Prosecutors have 30 days to appeal the panel's decision.

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