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Blair judge denies claim of ineffective attorney

Jones said he was ‘unlawfully induced’ to enter guilty pleas by public defender

A Blair County judge ruled last week that an Altoona man cannot withdraw his guilty pleas to multiple charges that were filed after a high-speed car chase through the city.

After police took Ricky Lee Jones, 38, into custody on Nov. 27, 2018, they charged him with possession of firearms prohibited, attempting to elude police, recklessly endangering others and accidents involving damage to vehicles and property.

According to police reports at the time, Jones, during the chase, hit the back porch of a home on Pottsgrove Road, hit three other vehicles, went through 13 stop signs and struck an embankment.

After striking the embankment, he fled on foot and hid in a bush in the front yard of a home.

Officers used a K-9 officer to force him from his hiding spot.

On July 8, 2019, Jones entered guilty pleas to the charges and Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan sentenced him to four to 10 years in a state correctional institution to be followed by five years’ probation.

Last June 15, Jones filed a post-conviction petition through the Blair County Public Defender’s office alleging his trial counsel had “unlawfully induced” him to enter his guilty pleas.

He contended his trial counsel was “ineffective.”

In a 10-page opinion issued Thursday, Sullivan explained that to prove his counsel was ineffective, a defendant must show his claim has legal merit, that the attorney lacked a “reasonable strategic basis” for advising his client to plead guilty, and that there is a “reasonable probability” the outcome of the case would have been different but for the errors of his attorney.

Last month, Sullivan heard testimony from Jones, who said he felt “pressured” by his attorney to plead to the charges.

That “pressure,” Sullivan stated, was that his attorney advised him that the government plea offer of five to 10 years was probably the last he would get.

Despite that circumstance, the judge pointed out the final plea agreement was for a lesser minimum sentence (four years) than had been bargained for.

Jones also stated that he was “pretty sure” he asked his attorney at the end of the sentencing hearing to file for a reconsideration of the sentence.

Public Defender Russell Montgomery could not confirm he was asked to seek reconsideration, and Judge Sullivan ruled in his opinion that due to Jones’ equivocation, “We specifically find that there was no request by (Jones) to file post-sentence motions.”

In reviewing the sentencing hearing, the judge pointed out that at the time, Jones said he understood the charges, and admitted his complicity .

He also confirmed for the judge that he was pleading guilty of his own free will.

In his opinion, Sullivan concluded Jones entered his guilty plea “knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily.”

He denied Jones’ argument that his attorney was ineffective.

Had the trial attorney been found ineffective, Jones would have been permitted to withdraw his guilty pleas.

Jones is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon.

He can appeal Sullivan’s ruling to the Superior Court.

The chase conducted by Altoona Police began when an officer recognized Jones in a vehicle at East Walton Avenue and Greenwood Road. At the time, Jones was wanted for a probation violation and was being sought for allegedly threatening his girlfriend.

A police lieutenant at the time of arrest confirmed officers had been looking for Jones throughout the week.

When the officer who spotted Jones turned his vehicle around, Jones accelerated, and the chase was on.

Police found two firearms in Jones’ abandoned vehicle. He was not permitted to possess firearms due to his past record.

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