A Kalispell man who pleaded guilty to his role in a 2010 murder claims he does not understand the charges against him and would like to withdraw his guilty plea due to ineffective counsel.
Robert Lake appeared before District Court Judge Stewart Stadler on March 24 in what was scheduled as a sentencing hearing for his role in the beating death of 49-year-old Wesley Collins of Kalispell.
Stadler, however, said he would delay the sentencing after Lake raised claims of ineffective counsel at a March 16 hearing, at which Lake also claimed he didn’t understand the punishment set forth in the plea agreement he signed with the Flathead County Attorney’s Office in February.
For one, Lake said he thought the maximum sentence in the plea agreement was 110 months, not 110 years. Stadler ruled that Lake could not withdraw his guilty plea on these grounds because he had signed and initialed the agreement, which Stadler said clearly laid out the punishment.
However, Stadler said he would explore the claims of ineffective counsel.
During a previous hearing, Lake asserted there were mitigating circumstances that led to Collins’ April 2010 death, and he would like to present that evidence in trial. Investigators accused Lake and Jeffrey Nixon of beating Collins to death with hammers and stealing his marijuana and other possessions.
At the March 24 hearing, Lake said his attorney, public defender Christopher Abbott, informed him that a jury would not likely rule in his favor if he pursued a trial for mitigated homicide, which is a lesser charged offense.
“He told me that it wouldn’t happen, nobody would listen to it,” Lake said.
Abbott, who was relieved of his attorney-client privilege through court order, said he advised Lake that there wasn’t “much of a chance that a jury would accept that or take it seriously,” and that a jury would likely convict him of deliberate homicide.
Abbott also said it appeared that Lake understood the maximum possible punishment laid out in the plea agreement. However, Lake insisted that he was still confused about the accusations against him, despite having signed the plea agreement.
“I still honestly don’t even understand what I’m being charged with,” Lake told the judge. “This long down the road I still don’t know.”
Stadler said he would issue an order in a couple days on whether Lake’s claims are substantial enough to warrant another hearing.
County Attorney Ed Corrigan said there is a possibility that Lake’s family would hire a private attorney.
Prosecutors dropped robbery charges against Lake as part of the February plea agreement.
Lake and Nixon are accused of stealing items from Collins’ apartment, as well as hiding his body in a wooded area west of Kalispell with the help of Cody Naldrett.
Naldrett, 28, entered an Alford plea on charges of evidence tampering, meaning he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him. Prosecutors recommended a nine-year prison term with all but six months suspended. 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.
Nixon’s trial, scheduled to begin in March, was delayed due to new charges.
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