Six months after he claimed innocence in the death of a homeless man, a 22-year-old man changed his mind and on Friday pleaded no contest to running over and killing the victim, who had been sleeping in a downtown Lawrence alley.
Joshua Cree Mattocks of Fair Grove, Mo., entered his plea and was found guilty on charges of involuntary manslaughter, driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an injury accident.
He was accused of hitting John Lowe, 38, in an alley behind Community Mercantile, 901 Miss. Witnesses reported that Lowe had been sleeping in the alley before his death on April 28.
Police responded when Lowe's body was found lying in a gutter along Mississippi Street, south of Ninth Street. He apparently had been dragged about 200 feet before his body dislodged from Mattocks' vehicle, authorities said.
Mattocks stood silently as Douglas County District Judge Paula Martin informed him about the possible results of his plea. Mattocks said he understood that by his decision he waived his right to a jury trial. He also said he realized that at sentencing he could receive, in total, up to 12 years and 10 months in jail for the three charges. He also could be fined more than $300,000.
The exact sentence, however, depends on Mattocks' criminal background.
Mattocks had pleaded innocent in September but indicated that the plea could change. His attorney, Lance Haley, and Douglas County Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney Tonkovich reached an agreement Thursday.
The agreement was to modify the felony charge of involuntary manslaughter, which originally had been based on the DUI charge. The two aspects were disconnected, and Mattocks was charged with involuntary manslaughter "based on reckless actions," which brought the crime's level of severity down, Tonkovich said.
"I contacted the victim's (Lowe's) five brothers and sisters yesterday and told them about the plea and possible sentence," Tonkovich said. "They were supportive. I think this was a fair resolution in this case, which was only possible because of the outstanding work of the investigating officers."
The plea agreement also involves the likelihood that Mattocks will be sent to Labette Correctional Conservation Camp, a boot camp for offenders, as an alternative to prison.
Dave Cade, executive director of the Pelathe Community Resource Center, which serves about 3,500 American Indians in and around Lawrence, said he hopes Mattocks understands the extent of the community's grief over Lowe's death.
"He's gotta live with that," Cade said. "I hope he realizes that John had a lot of friends in town and that he took a person away who was important in all of our lives."
Lawrence Police, who at first had no suspects in the homicide, eventually narrowed their search to Mattocks, who was arrested in August.
Assistant Dist. Atty. David Zabel read aloud in court evidence the state was prepared to bring against Mattocks. He stated that police determined Mattocks had been driving in the 900 block of Mississippi Street when he turned into an alley behind the Community Mercantile.
Mattocks then struck Lowe, who had been slumped over in the alley for several hours. Witnesses reported hearing a vehicle hit something and then drive away, Zabel said.
When they interviewed Mattocks, police learned he had been drinking alcohol at The Granada, 1020 Mass., before the accident, Zabel said. Mattocks told police he thought Lowe was a bag of trash but that he could tell it wasn't when he hit the victim. He didn't know what to do, and so he accelerated to dislodge Lowe from his vehicle, Zabel said.
Mattocks' sentencing was scheduled for April 4.