A judge Monday rejected a request by Major Edwards Jr. to withdraw his 2010 guilty plea in connection with the 2006 shooting death of Lawrence hip-hop artist Anthony Vital.
Edwards, 32, was the state’s key witness in the trial of co-defendant Durrell Jones earlier this year, but he had claimed he was misled into entering the earlier plea and alleged he was promised a seven- to eight-year sentence but instead was facing 18 years.
“None of that is supported by anything other than his own testimony, in my opinion,” Judge Philip Sieve said.
Sieve, a former Wyandotte County chief judge specially appointed to hear the motion, made his ruling after a nearly four-hour hearing.
The outcome also puts in doubt whether Edwards will testify at Jones’ new trial in August. The first trial ended in a hung jury.
“I think Major feels that the state did not treat him fairly during his plea, and I think at this point in time he’s not wanting to testify,” defense attorney Napoleon Crews said after Monday’s hearing.
In Jones’ first trial, Edwards testified he saw Jones, 24, of Kansas City, Kan., shoot Vital in a rural driveway west of Lawrence. Edwards said Jones wanted to collect on a drug debt. He expressed remorse for leading Jones to Vital but said he didn’t shoot Vital.
In asking to withdraw the plea, Edwards claimed he was not aware his voluntary manslaughter plea meant he was admitting to intentionally killing Vital.
“I do know for a fact that I explained the elements of the charge to him,” Edwards’ former attorney Kay Huff, who is now a Douglas County judge, testified Monday.
Edwards also alleged he decided to enter the plea at the mention of a reduced sentence, and he said he was surprised at a March 18, 2010, plea hearing when he heard he faced 18 years in prison.
“They put the seven- to eight-year plea in my head, and that’s what made it,” Edwards said.
But Huff testified she had already told Edwards that a sentence that short was “not in the cards.” She said at the time of his plea that attorneys for both sides informed Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild that they could ask him during sentencing to consider a reduced sentence based on whether Edwards cooperated in Jones’ case.
Huff said at the time that she was not sure if Edwards would cooperate.
The two sides later agreed to ask for four years off Edwards sentence in exchange for his testimony against Jones.
“I had positioned his plea as best I could get it,” Huff said. “It was his choice to take it or leave it.”
Edwards during cross-examination from prosecutors alleged Chief Assistant District Attorney Amy McGowan had coached him about how to mention a deal on his sentence during the Jones trial.
But McGowan testified that they had to bring up the four-year reduction in the trial and that she had gone over with Edwards the questions she would ask.
“Did you tell him what answers he should give?” Assistant District Attorney James McCabria asked.
“No, I don’t do that,” McGowan replied.
During cross-examination, McCabria also asked Edwards why he didn’t seek to withdraw his guilty plea until after Jones’ first trial ended in a hung jury.
“It was about the fact that I felt like I was bamboozled by the state,” said Edwards, who testified he was “under duress” to help prosecutors during the trial.
A sentencing for Edwards has not yet been scheduled.