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Three years ago, Jamie Madrigal made a deal that spared his life.
Now, while spending the rest of his life in prison, he wants to withdraw the plea made for the April, 1995, murder of an employee during an armed robbery at the former Pacific Crab House, claiming he wasn't properly sentenced.
Sentenced in January, 2007, to two consecutive life terms, Madrigal was convicted for the aggravated murder of Larry Loose, a dishwasher at the Maumee restaurant, as well as the kidnapping of six others. He was also sentenced for the 1996 aggravated murder of Misty Fisher, who was shot in the head during the robbery of the KFC at South Avenue and Anthony Wayne Trail where she worked.
In a plea agreement reached after a federal appeals court overturned his death-penalty conviction for Miss Fisher's death, Madrigal avoided the death penalty and was sentenced to 126 years to life in prison.
But in a motion filed Jan. 29, Madrigal, now 35, has asked a judge to allow him to withdraw his plea, claiming his sentence of 20 mandatory years to life for Mr. Loose's murder does not conform to the laws in place at the time of the offense. The motion, submitted by Madrigal without the assistance of a lawyer, argues that this error "provides the reasonable and legitimate basis for the withdrawal of Madrigal's plea of guilty."
Yesterday, Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Frederick McDonald took the motion under advisement. He can either deny the motion or set a date to hear oral arguments from both sides on the motion.
"If the court did impose an improper sentence, the obligation would be to go back and impose a correct sentence," said Dean Mandros, chief of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office criminal division. "… I don't think that would serve as a basis for withdrawing his plea."
Mr. Mandros added if he were allowed to withdraw his plea, Madrigal "would be subject once again to the death penalty."
"I don't think this office would have a problem [pursuing] that."
Madrigal spent nearly a decade on death row after being sentenced to death for Miss Fisher's murder - a sentence that was overturned in 2003 by a federal appeals court.
In a negotiated plea agreement reached four years later, Madrigal was convicted of the aggravated murders of Miss Fisher and Mr. Loose. An appeal of his sentence was denied in December, 2008, by the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals.
During his Jan. 12, 2007, plea and sentence hearing, he admitted to pulling the trigger that ended Miss Fisher's life as she struggled to open the backroom safe at the fast-food restaurant. He entered an Alford plea for the aggravated murder of Mr. Loose the year before and the kidnapping of several others.
In an Alford plea, a defendant maintains his or her innocence or does not admit to committing a crime but pleads guilty for his or her best interest. The court treats it as a guilty plea.
According to the docket entry of both pleas, Judge McDonald found "the pleas were made knowingly, voluntarily, and with an understanding of the nature of the charges, the maximum penalties involved, and the effect of the pleas."
But Madrigal claimed in the 12-page motion that the court should allow him to withdraw his plea because the judge imposed an improper sentence and for ineffective assistance of counsel because the error was not caught by his attorneys at the time. If sentenced under the guidelines in place at the time of the crime, Madrigal argued, he would have been entitled to a parole hearing after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
A change in sentencing laws went into effect on July 1, 1996.
The prosecutor's response, filed Feb. 8, noted that even if good time credit is given, Madrigal "would still be required to serve 88.2 full years … before becoming eligible for parole consideration." It also stated that according to transcripts, the judge notified Madrigal at the time of his plea entry that the "court's intention was that defendant serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole."
"Defendant was validly sentenced under the law in effect at the time his offenses were committed. Even giving defendant 'good time' credit, he will still be required to serve 88.2 years before even becoming eligible for parole consideration," the response stated.
Prosecutor Julia Bates said yesterday that motions such as the one Madrigal filed do little more than "continuously pick at the closure scabs" for the victims' families. She added she was "not worried" about Madrigal's recent claims.
"He's never going to see the outside of a prison," she said.
Mr. Loose's family declined to comment on the motion. Ray Fisher, Miss Fisher's father, said yesterday that he has learned that anything is possible within the judicial system and so never relies on the hope that nothing will come of the motion.
He said he's learned that the scales of justice seem to always be "weighted the wrong way." Despite his own frustrations, Mr. Fisher said he made a promise to himself that he would always represent his daughter and so plans to see this issue through.
"When something like this happens, there's one of two things you can do," he added. "You can either let them win and never get better or you can find a place to put it, and you go on. And I'm pretty hard-headed, so I'm not going to let him win."
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