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News >  Crime/Public Safety

A Utah man tried to walk back Alford plea in attack on Idaho woman. See how judge ruled

Feb. 6, 2023 Updated Tue., Feb. 7, 2023 at 5:57 p.m.

By Alex Brizee Idaho Statesman

A Salt Lake City man pleaded guilty in late October to three felonies related to the sexual assault of an Idaho woman in 2018 – and three months later, the 31-year-old asked to walk back his Alford plea.

But 4th District Judge James Cawthon denied Nicholas Campbell’s request during an hourlong hearing Friday. Campbell is expected to be sentenced at 9 a.m. Feb. 15 at the Ada County Courthouse, according to online court records.

“The court finds that Mr. Campbell has not established a just reason to withdraw his guilty plea, and the court will deny the motion,” Cawthon said in court.

In 2018, a woman in the same neighborhood as Campbell was out jogging when Campbell attacked her from behind, the Ada County Sheriff’s Office previously said in a news release. He eventually entered an Alford plea – which has the effect of a guilty plea – to three felonies: battery with the intent to commit a serious felony and two enhancements, infliction of great bodily injury and destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.

In his motion, Campbell’s attorney, Raymond Schild, said since Campbell entered an Alford plea, he hasn’t “admitted doing the acts alleged.” Schild said Campbell was now seeking to have a trial.

In a Jan. 25 objection, Ada County prosecutors Katelyn Farley and Daniel Dinger said Campbell doesn’t have an “automatic right” to withdraw his plea.

“All (the) defendant has claimed is that he entered an Alford plea and did not make admissions of factual guilt,” the motion said. “He has not provided anything more in support of the withdrawal of his guilty plea.”

The prosecutors’ objection pointed to an Idaho Supreme Court ruling stating that just because an individual utilizes an Alford plea, it doesn’t mean it can be withdrawn “willy nilly.”

“The utility of Alford pleas will be severely reduced if defendants are permitted to withdraw them before sentencing for no additional reason,” according to the State V. Dopp ruling. “Such a holding might well lead to a reluctance on the part of prosecutors and judges to agree to the acceptance of such pleas.”

Attorney says Campbell suffers from a history of mental illness

Schild brought up Campbell’s mental health history during Friday’s hearing and said it should be factored into the decision, because Campbell doesn’t remember committing the assault. He added that doctors had diagnosed Campbell to have multiple conditions, such as schizoaffective disorder, PTSD, paranoia and schizophrenia.

“I don’t have an expert’s opinion of that,” Schild said. “I don’t have a factual basis other than what he tells me, but I can tell you that he doesn’t think he’s right mentally, psychologically.”

Campbell was previously declared incompetent in 2021.

Cawthon said the notion that Campbell doesn’t remember the crime is based on just one statement from a presentencing investigation packet.

One of the questions in the packet was, “How do you feel about having committed the crime?” Campbell responded, “I don’t remember committing this crime.”

“Now it is without question that Mr. Campbell labors with and suffers from mental health issues that are significant,” Cawthon said. “That isn’t the question. The question is, does he have the competency to understand the nature of the legal proceedings? Does he have the competency to assist counsel?”

Cawthon said that “everything in the record” showed Campbell was competent.

The judge said the report contained two “references” to prior arrests and convictions for “violent and assault-related offenses.” In addition, the psychosexual evaluation said Campbell is at a “high risk” to reoffend and not amenable to treatment.

‘Complete breakdown of the attorney-client relationship’

Schild filed a motion Jan. 23 to withdraw as Campbell’s attorney and said in a subsequent affidavit in support of the motion – which the Statesman obtained – that Campbell “failed to follow attorney advice.” The motion was rescinded Friday after Cawthon denied Campbell’s request to walk back his plea.

“There are fundamental differences between attorney and client in the handling of the case and a total and complete breakdown of the attorney-client relationship, thus making it impossible to effectively represent the Defendant,” Schild wrote in the affidavit.

Farley and Dinger objected, stating that assigning a new attorney to the case would delay the case and that the victim is “anxious for a sentence to be pronounced.” Their objection said Schild is an “experienced attorney” who has been involved in the case for “well over one year.”

“To start that process over again with a new attorney would be very burdensome to all involved,” according to the prosecutors’ motion.

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