Cortland man takes plea deal in rape case

Abdul-Salaam O. Odu, 27, of Cortland (City of Cortland Police Department)

In an eleventh hour plea deal, a city man accused of attacking one former girlfriend and raping another agreed Friday in Cortland County Court to serve three years in prison and avoided a trial scheduled for Monday.

Abdul-Salaam O. Odu, 27, of Winter Street, was set to be tried Monday for attacking a woman in June who had an order of protection against him; before the trial began Odu was again arrested on Feb. 21 for the rape of a former girlfriend.

Odu was out of jail on bail when he forcibly engaged in sex with a 35-year-old woman he knew on Feb. 11 at a residence on Charles Street, according to city police.

Police obtained a warrant for his arrest and were searching for him, asking the public to assist in a Friday post on the city police department’s Facebook page that included his mug shot. Odu responded to the Feb. 15 post, promising to turn himself in and proclaiming his innocence. It was Feb. 21 when Odu turned himself in to the city police department. Odu spent the intervening six days hiding in the Winter Street apartment of a third woman, Assistant District Attorney Christopher Simser told Judge Julie Campbell Friday.

Odu was charged with first-degree rape, a felony, and faced a potential sentence of at least five years and up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

As part of Friday’s plea deal, Odu pled guilty to third-degree rape, a felony, as well as felony, first-degree criminal contempt for attacking in June a former girlfriend who had an order of protection against him.

In the June case, Odu “... waited outside home until she arrived…” and, “...after she opened the door to exit her vehicle he physically attacked , they struggled and he tried to pull her from the vehicle…” in front of two children, according to court documents that detail the prosecution’s arguments. Odu took the woman’s Apple iPhone, as well as her wallet containing a debit card and cash, the documents note.

Simser said Friday Odu “... hid in the shadows and, for lack of better words, ambushed the victim and those with her when they tried to bring food into the house.”

A Cortland County Grand Jury indicted Odu on June 22 on seven counts in that case: third-degree robbery, fourth-degree grand larceny and first-degree criminal contempt, felonies, as well as two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, petit larceny and second-degree harassment, misdemeanors. If convicted of the top count of the indictment, Odu could have been sentenced to anything from probation to seven years in prison.

Criminal history

Odu had a history of abusing the former girlfriend he attacked in June, according to court documents. Through his lawyer, Odu had requested Campbell prevent Simser from questioning him about his criminal history and previous domestic abuse incidents should he take the witness stand in the trial that was scheduled for Monday.

Campbell ruled in a Jan. 30 decision Simser could question Odu about his May 2018 conviction for misdemeanor fourth-degree criminal mischief. That conviction was also a result of a plea deal that reduced his original charges of first-degree criminal contempt and second-degree criminal mischief, felonies.

The order of protection Odu pled guilty to violating on Friday was from this May 2018 conviction and shielded the same former girlfriend, according to court documents.

Campbell noted in her January decision, “...there is no indication that this past offense (in May 2018) was an act of impulsivity, rather than a calculated act revealing a willingness voluntarily to place his individual self-interest ahead of the interests of society.”

The prosecution had hoped to introduce six domestic incident reports from the summer and fall of 2017 involving Odu and the same former girlfriend he attacked in June, according to court documents. City police were called to assist in each of the incidents.

During a June 29, 2017 incident officers say Odu stole her cell phone and left, according to court documents. On Sept. 29, 2017 officers say Odu stole the woman’s cell phone again, and “...detained her and pushed her to the ground…” before he yelled at police and refused to cooperate with them.

Campbell ruled in her January decision Odu could be questioned about these incidents, but the prosecution could not ask about three other arguments the police were called to or an Oct. 9, 2017 incident when Odu contacted the woman’s son over Facetime.

Odu’s County-assigned defense attorney noted he was not arrested or charged in all six domestic incidents, according to court documents.

Simser expressed satisfaction with the plea deal struck Friday, less than 72 hours before Odu’s trial for the June charges was scheduled to begin.

“This is a good result that recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of the cases,” Simser said, adding it saves victims and witnesses from having to testify at trial.

Defense Attorney Luke Fenchel, who was assigned to defend Odu in the February rape case, declined to comment after the hearing. His other defense attorney assigned to his June case was not immediately available for comment.

Courtroom conundrum

Friday’s plea deal was the result of unusual and public negotiations during court hearings on Thursday and Friday, as well as Feb. 28. During the hearings, Campbell warned Odu multiple times not to try to manipulate her court into delaying his trial.

After Odu was arrested and assigned Fenchel to defend him in his rape case, he asked Campbell on Feb. 28 if he could replace Assigned Defense Attorney Natalie Miner with Fenchel. Campbell refused, noting that change would cause his trial to be pushed back until this June.

“Ain’t happenin’, Mr. Odu,” Campbell said on Feb. 28. “I’m not playing that game with you...You do not have the right to choose assigned counsel.

Campbell did allow Fenchel to work with Miner on the trial ready case after Odu refused to speak with Miner on Tuesday, an unusual move for Campbell as indigent defendants are only entitled to one county-paid defense lawyer.

The possibility of a plea deal involving both the June 2018 charges ready for trial and the February rape charges was first raised Thursday. Campbell warned the attorneys the paperwork would have to be prepared by Friday morning if they were to avoid a trial Monday.

“It’s a monumental task,” Campbell noted Thursday. “If you want to engage in that, I’m all for it.”

Campbell and Simser both warned Odu the plea deal would only be good if he pled to rape before he pled to the trial-ready criminal contempt charge on Friday. This tactic prevented Odu from avoiding the trial by pleading to a lesser charge, but then refusing to plead to the rape charge, during Friday’s hearing.

“I’m not going to be baited and switched,” Campbell told Odu.

Odu is set to be sentenced at 10 a.m. May 16th and as part of his sentence, he will have to register as sex offender after he is released from prison. He was incarcerated as of Friday on $7,500 cash or $15,000 bond bail.