Shooting suspect tries to withdraw guilty plea

Published 6:10 am Friday, March 17, 2017

By Melanie Ruberti

LaGRANGE – A man accused of breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s home and shooting her in the face now wants to stand trial on the charges against him.

Joseph Hicks told Troup County Superior Court Judge Travis Sakrison on Thursday he felt misled by his former defense attorney Cliff Rhodes.

Hicks made an “Alford plea” inside a Troup County Superior Courtroom in Sept. 2016. The Alford plea meant Hicks pleaded guilty in his best interest to the charges against him, but did not admit to committing the crime, Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Pete Skandalakis told the Daily News.

The man was accused of gaining entry into his 24-year-old ex-girlfriend’s home in the 900 block of Baldwin Street on March 22, 2016 by disguising his voice as a woman’s, stated Skandalakis.

Hicks allegedly began to beat the ex-girlfriend. She escaped from the home, but tripped and fell on the sidewalk. Hicks followed, stood over her with a gun and shot her in the face, said Skandalakis.

The 24-year-old woman survived her injuries.

Hicks pleaded guilty to criminal attempted murder, two counts of aggravated assault, burglary in the first degree, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and two counts of aggravated battery Family Violence.

He was sentenced by Judge Sakrison to 20 years behind bars, 300 hours of community service, plus an order to stay away from the victim and her family, stated Skandalakis.

The suspect stood in front of Sakrison again on Thursday and alleged Rhodes never told him he had the option to go to trial.

Hicks also stated he did not understand charges against him, the range of sentencing, nor did he understand his constitutional rights, among other things.

Troup County Assistant District Attorney Brett Adams showed Hicks the documents where he initialed he did understand his rights before he pleaded guilty in September.

“So you were lying when you initialed these papers,” Adams asked Hicks on the stand. “Were you, in fact, told of your rights and said you understood them? Or were you not? So everything in those documents was made up?”

“Sir, I tell you the truth, I ain’t all that bright,” Hicks replied. “I didn’t even finish school. I don’t know what’s right … Tell you the truth … I wasn’t lying… I don’t know. I can’t really say … I don’t really remember.”

The man also testified he felt that Rhodes “railroaded” him into taking a blind plea.

“I never got the proper tools to go to trial,” Hicks said.

“So you felt like you would lose at trial?” Adams asked.

“Yes, sir,” Hicks said.

“(You felt) Railroaded by your attorney?” Defense lawyer Tyler Moffitt asked Hicks on cross examination.

“Yes,” Hicks said.

Moffitt is now representing Hicks.

Defense attorney Cliff Rhoades also took stand on Thursday. He testified he advised his client it “was in his best interest” to plead guilty in the case.

Judge Sakrison agreed with the state and denied Hicks motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

If Hicks had gone to trial and found guilty he would have faced more than 100 years behind bars, Sakrison added.

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.