BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A defendant’s motion to withdraw his plea in what was originally a torture case was denied Thursday and he was sentenced to four years, eight months in prison following a discussion in which he claimed his former attorney “coerced and threatened” him into taking the deal.
Kristopher Lawless, 28, was sentenced Thursday by Judge Gary T. Friedman on charges including spousal abuse and dissuading a witness. The torture charge was dismissed under the deal.
He should be released in several months due to time served. He has been in custody since November 2012.
Over the repeated objections of his new attorney, Lawless testified Thursday that Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman, his previous attorney, had forced him to accept the deal.
But Lawless admitted under questioning by prosecutor Kim Richardson he understood the deal he was signing and had never previously told the court his concerns.
He said he hadn’t even bothered to read the plea deal but signed it anyway and understood what he was doing.
“It was a mistake of mine,” Lawless said. “I should have read it.”
He said Cadman had coerced him, but then later in the proceedings described him as a “good attorney” up until the plea deal.
Richardson pointed out numerous times where Lawless could have complained if he was upset with either his attorney or the deal, but never did.
Fred Gagliardini, Lawless’ new attorney, said after sentencing, “As a counselor at law, it’s always difficult to defend your client when your counsel is repeatedly ignored.”
Lawless has been in custody since a woman he’d been dating told police in 2012 they’d gotten into an argument, and he struck her over the head with a blunt object and punched her until she lost consciousness.
Lawless then tied her up, according to the woman's statement to police. Officers said the woman told them Lawless threatened to kill her, and he carried out a series of abuses against her.
She managed to escape Lawless' residence in southeast Bakersfield and flagged down a motorist who took her to a friend's house.
Lawless had faced a potential life sentence if convicted of the torture charge.
The prosecution offered the plea deal after the jury hung on the torture charge at his October 2013 trial.
Lawless told Friedman Thursday morning his constitutional rights had been violated. He directed the judge to take the Declaration of Independence into account in making his decision whether to allow the plea withdrawal.
Lawless told the court his “unalienable rights” would be violated if the court accepted the plea and sentenced him. Then he gave what he said was a “Webster’s” definition of “unalienable.”
The defendant also complained his medications had been taken away by jail staff. Earlier in the hearing, however, Lawless said he had taken medication Thursday morning.
Richardson asked how he was able to take medication if the jail didn’t provide him with any. He said he borrowed an antidepressant from another inmate.
“I think this is a good time to take a break,” Friedman said.
Following a short recess, Richardson called Cadman to the stand.
Cadman said he has never in his almost 30 years as an attorney threatened or coerced a client.
Lawless had told the judge Cadman said replacing him with another attorney would be “suicide.” Cadman denied that, but said he’s used the term “legal suicide” in past cases.
The attorney said he made it clear to Lawless he was the most qualified attorney to handle his retrial.
He said it took a year to prepare for the first trial.
“Speaking colloquially, I’m a big fan of me,” Cadman said.
He told the court he felt he had saved Lawless’ life in the first trial since he had faced a possible life sentence. Cadman said he was concerned about a second trial because of new witnesses the prosecution was prepared to call and advised his client to take the plea deal.
Friedman found Lawless, in accepting that deal, acted with clear judgment and was not in any way forced to accept it.