LIMA — A Michigan man who pleaded guilty in October to robbing a convenience store at knifepoint and threatening a clerk by vowing to “gut you like a fish” is now proclaiming his innocence.
John Morici, 54, of Eastpoint, Michigan, appeared in Allen County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday for a hearing on a motion filed Jan. 11 asking that he be allowed to withdraw a previous plea of guilty to a first-degree felony charge of aggravated robbery and instead proceed to trial.
An indictment handed down by a grand jury alleges that Morici robbed the Dairy Market convenience store on West Kibby Street in Lima on April 13. After initially pleading guilty, Morici balked during his sentencing hearing Dec. 9 and told Judge Terri Kohlrieser that his court-appointed attorney, Carroll Creighton, had failed to adequately represent him. Creighton disagreed but did admit that communications had broken down between the two.
Kohlrieser said a new attorney would be appointed, and attorney Thomas Lucente was subsequently named to represent Morici. The Michigan man at that time also asked to withdraw his guilty plea, but the judge said that would be discussed when a new attorney took over the case. Lucente filed a motion to that effect earlier this month, setting up Tuesday’s hearing.
Lucente called his client to the witness stand Tuesday, and Morici repeated the allegation that his prior guilty plea was the result of bad advice from Creighton. He said he felt pressured into making the plea and had little time to review the state’s evidence against him when he did so.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Thines questioned Morici on the timeline of the series of events in the case, and Morici admitted he went to the Dairy Mart store on April 13.
Kohlrieser, based on Morici’s earlier stated desire to proceed to trial, interrupted the questioning and posed a question of her own to the defendant.
“So you’re saying that if Dairy Mart was robbed, that it wasn’t you who did it?”
Morici replied, “That’s correct.”
During a December hearing, Morici told the judge he was going through withdrawal from drugs prescribed for psychological disorders when he committed the robbery. But on Tuesday, under questioning by Thines, Morici said he was of sound mind on the date in question.
Lucente said his client “is asking the court to allow him to withdraw his earlier plea and take the issue to trial. He welcomes the opportunity to prove his innocence at trial.”
Kohlrieser took the motion under advisement and said she would issue a ruling in the near future.