Judge Rejects Attempt to Change Guilty Plea in Murder Case

By Beacon Staff

A Flathead County district judge rejected a Kalispell man’s attempt to withdraw the guilty plea he entered in a murder case from last year.

In February, Robert Lake, 22, acknowledged his role in the April 2010 beating death of 49-year-old Wesley Collins. Lake pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide and evidence tampering as part of a deal with the Flathead County Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors dropped a third charge for felony robbery as part of the agreement.

But on March 16 Lake appeared before District Judge Stewart Stadler in an attempt to withdraw his plea. Lake told the judge that he was unclear on the maximum prison sentence – 110 years – listed in the plea agreement.

“I misunderstood that it was 110 years; I took it as 110 months,” Lake said from the witness stand.

Stadler considered whether Lake could change his plea for this reason, eventually ruling that Lake’s multiple initials and two signatures on the plea agreement showed that he was aware of the potential penalties.

The judge also read through the court transcripts from Lake’s February change of plea hearing, noting that Lake had said he understood the plea agreement.

“One-hundred and 10 years – it’s clearly written,” Stadler said.

Stadler concluded that Lake’s claim of involuntary agreement to the deal was not valid.

Lake also claimed that he received ineffective counsel from his attorney, public defender Christopher Abbott, when it came to the plea agreement.

“I was under the impression that I had to do this because my counsel told me that I had to,” Lake said.

Lake also said he was not guilty of deliberate homicide and wanted to prove his case at trial. The plea agreement, however, says by signing it, Lake gave up his right to a trial by judge or jury.

Stadler told Lake’s attorney his client could file a claim of ineffective counsel through another public defender within 10 days of the March 16 hearing, but that Lake’s March 24 sentencing would proceed as scheduled.

Investigators accused Lake and Jeffrey Nixon, 20, of beating Collins to death with hammers last April, then stealing his marijuana, prescription medications and other possessions.

They are also accused of evidence tampering for moving Collins body and dumping it in a wooded area west of Kalispell with the help of Cody Naldrett.

Naldrett, 28, entered an Alford plea last week on the charges against him, meaning he does not admit guilt, but acknowledges that the prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him.

Prosecutors agreed to a nine-year prison sentence with all but six months suspended, and Naldrett would not get credit for time served in jail already. His sentencing is scheduled for April 28.

Lake’s girlfriend, 19-year-old Karrolyn Robinson, was sentenced to eight years in the Montana Women’s Prison in Billings for her role in covering up the murder. Robinson admitted that she told Lake’s brother to delete text messages from Lake’s phone even though she knew they were of evidentiary value to investigators.

Prosecutors recently added a burglary accusation to Nixon’s list of charges, which currently include deliberate homicide, robbery and evidence tampering. His trial was initially scheduled to begin March 21, but it was delayed due to the new charges.

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