NEW PHILADELPHIA — A court has granted a request by Douglas M. Casteel to withdraw all of his guilty pleas to charges resulting from a Dec. 5 armed robbery and shooting near Newcomerstown.
Casteel, 30, of Newcomerstown, will now go on trial in Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court in the next couple of months.
On April 22, Casteel accepted a deal in which he pleaded guilty to three counts of attempted murder, felonies of the first degree; three counts of felonious assault, felonies of the second degree; one count of aggravated robbery, a felony of the first degree; and one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, a felony of the second degree.
Under the negotiated plea, Casteel agreed to an aggregate sentence of 17 years in prison on two pending cases: the Newcomerstown-area crime and a second pending indictment for illegal weapons possession and improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle.
Two co-defendants have already been found guilty. In May, Ian A. Cultrona, 36, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his role in the crime. Earlier this month, Lucian A. Lambes, 23, was found guilty of aggravated robbery and three counts of felonious assault during a jury trial in Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court. He has yet to be sentenced.
At a hearing Wednesday, Common Pleas Judge Edward O'Farrell heard arguments from Casteel's attorney, Donovan Hill, and Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Styer on Casteel's motion.
Hill told the judge that Casteel believes his sentence is unduly high in comparison to what Cultrona received, and he might receive a lighter sentence if a jury decided the case.
However, Hill advised his client against backing out of the plea deal.
"I believe it is my ethical duty as someone to act in his best interest to advise him against this course of action because were he to get what he wanted, I believe there is a significant likelihood that the outcome would be dramatically worse for him," the defense attorney said.
"He nonetheless believed that the discrepancy between his 17-year term and Mr. Cultrona’s 11-year term is too great and too, he believes, onerous given their respective potential liability in the underlying case, that there is an unfair singling out of him."
Hill told O'Farrell, "I have additional motions, trial motions and pretrial motions in my briefcase ready to file in favor of continuing to prepare and ensure that the best trial that can be run is run in this case, and I would zealously represent Mr. Casteel at that trial if necessary but obviously my job as his counsel is to do more than simply run trials for him, and I believe ethically I have advised him correctly that this is not in his best interest."
Styer argued against granting the motion, saying that Casteel was not presenting any "reasonable and legitimate" reasons for rescinding his guilty pleas.
"Given all of the factors that you are considering, you honor, I think almost all of those weigh against the granting of this motion," the prosecutor said. "The only thing he's taking issue with is the 17 years."
Ultimately, O'Farrell decided to grant Casteel's motion.
"It’s because if you believe that you should have the opportunity, now for whatever reason, to have a fair-minded jury decide if you’re guilty or not guilty of crimes and firearm specifications, I think you ought to have that opportunity," O'Farrell told the defendant.
He noted that if Casteel is found guilty by a jury, his sentence could be less than 17 years, or it could be more than that. "I will impose the sentence I think is fair and based on your criminal conduct," the judge said.
Casteel will remain in the Tuscarawas County Jail without bail until his case goes to trial.