LISBON - An East Liverpool man imprisoned for murder in the beating death of his pregnant girlfriend can't take back his guilty plea, a judge ruled Monday.
Brandon Johnson, 24, filed the motion on his own behalf last month asking to withdraw the guilty plea due to claims that the indictment was defective and his attorneys were ineffective because they didn't challenge what he called "coerced confessions" and forced him into a plea.
On Sept. 25, 2005, Columbiana County Common Pleas Court Judge David Tobin followed the recommendation of both the prosecution and defense attorneys Fred Naragon and Jennifer Gorby when he sentenced Johnson to 15 years to life for murder and three years for involuntary manslaughter charge for a total of 18 years before parole can be sought.
Johnson entered a guilty plea to both charges in a deal made with the prosecution.
He was originally charged with two counts of aggravated murder for causing the Aug. 16, 2004 deaths of his girlfriend Tiffany Faulk and her unborn child and could have faced prison terms of 20 years to life for each count.
In the judgment entry denying the motion to withdraw plea, Tobin explained that the defendant claimed the indictment was defective due to a lack of "mens rea" or indication of criminal intent. Tobin found that both counts in the indictment accused the defendant of "purposely causing the death of another."
He said purpose "is the appropriate mens rea for aggravated murder and murder. The indictment is not defective."
On the issue of ineffective counsel, Tobin noted the defendant's attorneys did what they're supposed to do. They requested discovery, or the revealing of evidence, they filed motions to suppress evidence, including Johnson's statements to police, and they twice had him examined for competency to stand trial.
The fact that he pled to a reduced plea showed that defense counsel negotiated on his behalf.
"At the plea and sentencing hearing, (the) defendant had ample opportunity to indicate that he is being coerced by his counsel into pleading," the judge wrote.
A hearing on the motion to suppress wasn't held due to the plea.
According to court documents, the incident occurred at the intersection of Grape Alley and Edgewood Street in East Liverpool.
The prosecution indicated a baseball bat was used in the attack after the two had an argument after leaving a party in the neighborhood.