Editor's Note: This story was originally published by our partner publication, The Ithaca Voice.
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ITHACA, N.Y. – A Cortland man appeared in court Friday without a lawyer for his arraignment on a murder charge – a killing he confessed to in 2013. The plea deal he agreed to – which required a confession – was overturned by an appellate court last month.
That means Gary "Pops" Lowe gets a second chance at either a trial or negotiating a better plea deal than the one that would have kept him in prison for 15 years.
As Lowe's court proceedings under way in the coming weeks, here are a few quick things to know about the crime he's being accused of and previous court appearances:
1) What happened the night a man was shot and killed?
The following narrative is provided by indictment paperwork:
On Dec. 2, 2011, Lowe, co-defendant Lawrence "L" Beauford, and an unknown male allegedly drive a tan minivan to the Chestnut Hill Apartment Complex in Ithaca to rob two men of cocaine and money.
Francisco "Rico" Santiago and a man named Ruben Flores were allegedly dealing drugs out of apartment K22 when Beauford showed p and asked to buy 14 grams of cocaine. Two other men at the apartment told him that Santiago did not have that amount of cocaine to sell him
Beauford left the apartment and returned shortly afterward with Lowe and the unknown third male with a handgun. The men pointed the gun at the people in the apartment who told them that Santiago and Flores had just left the apartment.
So the men sat and waited for them to return.
When Flores and Santiago walked into the ambush, they were forced into a small bedroom at gunpoint, and a fight ensued. The gun was fired and Santiago was struck and killed.
All three men fled the apartment in the same tan minivan.
2) What was Lowe's original plea deal?
Lowe accepted a plea deal that required him to plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. In return for his confession to using a 9 mm gun to cause injury resulting in death, prosecutors agreed to instead recommend 15 years in prison with five years of post-release supervision.
Lowe was originally charged with two counts of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery, fourth-degree conspiracy, two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree criminal use of a firearm.
One factor likely considered during the trial, and perhaps in the construction of a plea deal, was Lowe's status as a predicate felon, which often means a harsher sentence is recommended for a person.
Lowe has been convicted of 13 felonies – 10 of which were violent – two misdemeanors, and two parole revocations. The other felonies include assault and robbery.
3) Why did he try to renege on the plea deal?
The short answer is that Lowe tried to withdraw his plea deal because: he said he was innocent, he claims he was coerced into making the deal, he says he didn't know he would be unable to change his mind about the plea after he signed paperwork committing to it and he claims a media reportabout the crime tainted his ability to have an impartial jury.
According to a transcript from Lowe's sentencing, Lowe sent Judge John Rowley a letter concerning the plea deal. It read, at least in part, the following:
"I want to withdraw my plea. It is my claim, which is probably a good way to put it, that my attorney coerced me into entering this plea of guilty...It's my opinion that Mr. (Wes) McDermott became doubtful of his ability to provide me with meaningful representation on March 11, when you, Judge informed him we had no chance of winning this trial."
Rowley provided transcripts of court proceedings at the time that he said proves he never commented that the case could not be won, but did ensure that Lowe and his attorney knew all the facts of the case, which seemed to stack the odds against Lowe.
According to the transcripts, Rowley referred to comments Lowe made a third party detailing specifics about the crime that would been used as evidence in a trial.
Rowley said Lowe and his attorney were given a weekend to consider the plea deal after the evidence was revealed, and the plea was accepted the following Monday, May 3, 2013.
"All you had to do was say, 'I want to go to trial'. And I told you that. I said, 'The jury is upstairs. We'll go to trial.' I can quote you what I said...The plea couldn't have been clearer. I kept it very simple," Rowley said in the transcripts.
Lowe claimed he feared that he would not be give a fair trial because the jury was tainted due to a news report about the case.
After denying Lowe's request to withdraw the plea, Rowley moved to sentence Lowe who stood up and walked out of court while saying, "You got that I'm the shooter in this case? You got the wrong man. That's wrong. And you know you got the wrong man. You know that. Your plea agreement even shows that."
4) How did he get a new chance at a trial?
An appellate courted sided with Lowe's claims on Nov. 25.
The court decided to overturn the conviction, "Because the record does not demonstrate that defendant's guilty plea was knowing, voluntary and intelligent..."
The court documents goes on to say that it was never made clear to Lowe that, in taking the plea, he would not be allowed to appeal the conviction and that Lowe did not know that pleading guilty was the equivalent of being found guilty by a jury after a trial.
"While we are mindful of defendant's lengthy criminal record and the fact that he has entered numerous guilty pleas over the last 2½ decades, the record does not demonstrate that defendant understood and waived his constitutional rights when he entered the guilty plea at issue here," the ruling states.
The judgment was reversed and further proceedings are being remitted to the Tompkins County Court.
5) What happens next?
(Republished, in part, from – Does overturned conviction mean man accused of Ithaca killing gets a trial?)
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia said in an email that the court's decision essentially means the case will be restored to Lowe's "pre-pleading status" because Lowe's guilty plea was tossed out.
The original indictment against Lowe remains the same.
Bonavia said, "We have already met with investigators at the Ithaca Police Department and we are actively reviewing the case to determine how best to proceed."
After that, Lowe's attorney can either try to negotiate a plea deal or take the case to trial.
Lowe was scheduled to appear at the Tompkins County Court to be re-arraigned at 2:45 p.m. Dec. 18. He appeared without a lawyer and said he wanted to hire one.
He is scheduled to appear in court again on Jan. 4.
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