Murder conviction affirmed after judge recusal appeal

A man who murdered a friend and shot and wounded another lost his appeal that argued the jurist who rejected his guilty plea then presided over his murder trial wrongly denied a motion for a new judge.

Anthony T. Williams had agreed to plead guilty to murder and attempted murder for the killing of his friend Damian Reedus and for shooting and injuring Aja Jester in Lake County in 2013. The agreement called for a 55-year sentence on the murder charge and a 30-year sentence, served concurrently, for the attempted murder count.

At a victim impact hearing, Jester said she was upset with a sentence she considered too lenient, and the trial court agreed, rejecting the deal and ordering the case to trial. Lake Superior Judge Salvador Vasquez told defense counsel he would not accept a concurrent term on the attempted murder charge. At a subsequent jury trial where Vasquez presided, Williams was convicted of both counts plus carjacking, and the court imposed an aggregate sentence of 120 years.

The Indiana Court of Appeals Friday affirmed the trial court and rejected Williams’ argument. The COA found the motion was untimely, but even if it wasn’t, he acquiesced to Vasquez presiding at trial. “To the extent Williams implies the trial judge should have nevertheless sua sponte recused himself from his case, we disagree,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the panel.

“We do not believe the judge here crossed the line into threatening Williams with an unfair trial or severe sentence when he rejected the plea agreement. Rather, he provided guidance as to what kind of plea he would find acceptable. In doing so, the judge acted properly and did not demonstrate actual bias or prejudice against Williams,” the panel held.

The case is Anthony T. Williams v. State of Indiana, 45A05-1702-CR-314.

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