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Thursday, November 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Prosecutor: No grounds for Lee to withdraw guilty pleas

By Chelsea Embree Lewiston Tribune

MOSCOW, Idaho – Prosecutors are arguing that there is “no legal or factual basis” for a convicted triple murderer to withdraw his guilty pleas.

John Lee, 31, of Moscow, filed a motion to withdraw the pleas last week, asserting he was “not in the right state of mind” when he entered them. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Mia M. Vowels wrote in a response that Lee was found to be competent, and asked the court to deny his request. No hearings have been scheduled.

Lee was sentenced in May to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the January 2015 shooting spree that killed his adoptive mother, Terri L. Grzebielski, 61; his landlord, David M. Trail, 76; and Moscow Arby’s manager Belinda G. Niebuhr, 47. Seattle resident Michael M.M. Chin, 41, was also injured in the incident.

As part of a plea agreement that Lee accepted in March, he entered Alford pleas to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery. By entering Alford pleas, Lee did not admit guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict him.

In his motion, Lee argues that “noises” were affecting his decision-making and that he felt he didn’t have “free will,” both when he entered the Alford pleas and when he was sentenced.

Motions to withdraw guilty pleas are allowed before sentencing, according to Idaho statutes, or after sentencing to correct “manifest injustice.” Lee must establish “manifest injustice” since it is well past his sentencing date, Vowels wrote in her eight-page response filed late last week in Latah County 2nd District Court.

“ ‘Manifest injustice’ is established if a guilty plea is not taken in compliance with constitutional due process standards, which require that a guilty plea be made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently,” Vowels wrote.

Lee underwent a forensic psychological evaluation prior to entering the Alford pleas, and his own psychologist additionally reported that Lee was competent to proceed, Vowels wrote.

She added that at the hearing, Lee was found to be “intelligent and articulate,” according to court records. Lee was found to suffer from schizophrenia or a psychotic disorder of paranoid delusions, but “his mental illness would not impact his ability to understand the proceedings,” Vowels wrote.

Lee also factually responded to the charges and provided the court with a “detailed series of events” at the March hearing, Vowels wrote. Court records indicate Lee was advised of his rights and the effect any guilty plea would have on those rights, which ensures that any plea is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently, Vowels wrote.

“Defendant claims in his motion that he was not in the right state of mind when he pled guilty, that noises were effecting (sic) his decision, and that he did not feel he had free will,” Vowels wrote. “There is nothing in the record to support the defendant’s claims.”

Lee is being held at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution in Kuna.

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