Lisbon man changes mind on theft plea

LISBON – Scheduled for a jury trial Wednesday morning, Seth S. Robinson, 28, state Route 45, Lisbon, at first indicated his intention to plead and then changed his mind in the middle of the plea hearing in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court.

Robinson is charged with theft for allegedly taking a diamond ring belonging to Deborah Erdel, his mother-in-law, last February and pawning it at Cashland in Mahoning County.

Offered a plea agreement, which would have dropped the theft charge from a fifth-degree felony to a first-degree misdemeanor, Robinson reportedly agreed to plead to the charge. However, during his plea hearing, when Judge C. Ashley Pike asked him how he pleaded to the charge, Robinson responded with “no contest.”

When Pike pointed out the plea agreement called for a guilty plea, Robinson balked. While he paused, two women in the courtroom, one Robinson’s wife, urged him not to plead guilty.

Pike questioned Robinson’s attorney, Jennifer Gorby, who said Robinson seems concerned about having the opportunity later to appeal and was attempting to keep that option available by pleading no contest. Pike noted that the court should have been informed of this before proceeding with the plea hearing, which was already more than 15 minutes along at that point.

Pike also questioned Assistant County Prosecutor Tammie Riley Jones, who said she was unaware Robinson did not plan to plead guilty and had believed the plea agreement was negotiated in good faith.

According to Jones, Robinson has contended the ring actually belonged to him. Jones continued Erdel actually paid to have the ring removed from pawn once before this theft occurred.

“I’m not here to get someone who is innocent to plead guilty,” Pike said. “My information was and the papers indicate your intention to plead guilty. You don’t feel you are guilty of theft?”

“It’s a family matter,” Robinson responded.

Pike pointed out a grand jury indicted Robinson of the charge, so he needs defend himself or answer to the charge.

“I just got a new good job, a new home and my wife is pregnant,” Robinson said. “I’m gambling with a year of my life. I’m between a rock and a hard spot.”

The fifth-degree felony is punishable by up to 12 months in prison. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to 180 days in the county jail and Jones had indicated she was willing to ask Pike to suspend 90 days during sentencing.

Pike gave Robinson some time to talk to Gorby and think about how he wanted to proceed. At 11:40 a.m., Robinson returned to the courtroom and Gorby indicated to Pike her client had still not decided what to do.

“Some cases need to be tried,” Pike said, adding he would no longer accept the plea agreement.

A new jury trial for the fifth-degree felony theft charge was scheduled for March 18 with no additional status conference scheduled.

Robinson is no stranger to a jail cell. He was sentenced to four years in 2005 case when he pleaded guilty to a reckless homicide charge amended from involuntary manslaughter. That charge stemmed from the death of Larry Athey Sr., who Robinson punched outside the Vittle Village in New Waterford in 2005. Robinson was also successfully sued by Athey’s widow, Patricia Athey, who received a $750,000 judgment by Pike in 2011.