Defense lawyer: DA broke promise | AspenTimes.com
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Defense lawyer: DA broke promise

Chad Abraham

The defense attorney for a teen charged in a fatal car accident told a judge Thursday that the assistant district attorney handling the case reneged on a plea agreement.Fredric Winocur, who is defending Dustin Hite, 18, tried to have the case dismissed during a hearing before Judge James Boyd. The judge later denied the motion, ruling that a hearing is required to discuss Winocur’s allegations against prosecutor Vince Felletter.Hite was charged with vehicular homicide, a felony, in the death of Alex Terral, 17, who was riding in Hite’s vehicle when it crashed last June east of Aspen. Terral, a National Merit scholar and member of the varsity basketball team, died a few days later. The district attorney’s office recently offered a plea bargain of careless driving causing death, a misdemeanor, which moved the case from juvenile to adult court.But just before a hearing Tuesday in which Hite was preparing to plead guilty to the misdemeanor, Felletter and the defense disagreed on the terms of the deal.The sides will return to county court today to discuss the plea agreement, and Hite could be sentenced for the misdemeanor crime. But Felletter told The Aspen Times yesterday that, in light of Tuesday’s hearing, a trial on the felony charge is still set.”There has been nothing that happened that would say stop preparing [for trial],” he said.Winocur vigorously disagreed with that in yesterday’s hearing. The prosecutor “did not articulate anything other than [we] had a deal on the record,” Winocur said. He said Felletter told him, “You have my word.”Winocur told Boyd that Felletter later said he had “never uttered those words. He didn’t want to be bound by his prior statements. He also said he couldn’t get the paperwork done in time.”The paperwork consisted of two pages, according to Winocur.He said the prosecutor wasn’t exactly clear at the time they informally talked in the hallway before Tuesday’s hearing – “except [that there] was an influence by the press and he stated there was not a deal, which was news to us.”Asked about the media influence, Felletter said, “I don’t know what he’s talking about. I try to conduct myself ethically and professionally.”He said Tuesday’s development was the result of a communication breakdown.”I don’t want to get into a war with [Winocur]. There was obviously a misunderstanding about the terms of the plea agreement,” Felletter said. “My position when that happens is the parties need to step back and talk and, if they can, reach an agreement.”Felletter was not at Thursday’s hearing, which was attended by Winocur, Katharine Sullivan, Hite’s other defense lawyer, and Hite’s parents. Deputy District Attorney Andrew Heyl represented the prosecution.Winocur told county Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely on Tuesday that he was worried Felletter would pull the plea agreement and set the case for trial. He reiterated that concern to Boyd yesterday, saying such “derailing and sandbagging” of the defense would cripple Hite’s chances of receiving due process.Because of Felletter’s statements, “we were not preparing for trial,” Winocur said. The month of May had been set aside for investigations and motions in the case, but “that time has come and gone.”Felletter said it is the responsibility of defense lawyers to remain on trial footing.”As long as that case is still on the docket and still set for trial, they have to recognize that it could go to trial if we don’t get an agreement in this sort of separate misdemeanor case,” he said. “We’ve talked several times trying to reach an agreement in this case, and I believe that both sides felt we had an agreement when we walked in there on Tuesday.”When I walked in there, I fully expected, as part of the agreement, we were going to sentencing that day so we could have closure and so that we could come in [yesterday] and dismiss the juvenile case.”The confusion occurred because the defense wasn’t aware that sentencing would occur Tuesday, Felletter said, though Sullivan interrupted him during that hearing to say that Hite was prepared to plead guilty and be sentenced. Fernandez-Ely said she needed time to analyze the case before handing down a sentence.”The defense felt like we had a deal. It meant he would plead guilty Tuesday, but we would set it over for sentencing,” Felletter said. “In the meantime we would dismiss the juvenile case. It’s a misunderstanding.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com


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