If Michael Jefferson had been convicted of all the charges he faced, he would not have walked outside of barbed wire again.
But the 22-year-old pleaded guilty in December to six of the dozen felonies pending against him, admitting to his role in a violent string of apartment robberies that terrorized Fort Wayne residents at the beginning of last year.
As part of that plea agreement, he received a prison sentence of 54 years, much less than the 100-plus years he could have seen had he gone to trial.
In a Jan. 10, 2013, robbery at Island Club Apartments, near East Wallen and Auburn roads, a toddler and her parents were bound with duct tape, according to court documents.
Devontae Hamlet’s fingerprints were on that duct tape, as well as on a garbage bag filled with loot found at the scene.
In another robbery that night, Jefferson and Hamlet bound three men in a unit at Cambridge Square Apartments, near Coldwater and East Cook roads.
That robbery ended badly for Hamlet when one of the victims freed himself, grabbed a handgun from a closet and shot Hamlet as he fled.
A few minutes later, Hamlet showed up at Parkview Hospital with a gunshot wound, according to court documents.
Jefferson’s plea agreement was hammered out in the months after his arrest and based on the promised testimony of three of the four people involved with him, three of whom pleaded guilty before Jefferson did.
On Tuesday, though, as he waited for Allen Superior Judge Fran Gull to accept the plea agreement, he sat in the jury box and stewed, as did his mother and brother in the gallery of the courtroom.
When it was his turn to speak, after a lengthy recitation of the crimes and their effect by the Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred, Jefferson enthusiastically tried to take back his guilty plea.
His behavior stood in stark contrast to his co-defendant, Hamlet, who took full responsibility for his role in the robberies – including tying up a toddler with duct tape. Sentenced a few weeks ago to 68 years in prison, Hamlet told the court he asked God every night to forgive him for the terror he caused.
Jefferson expressed no such contrition.
“I have multiple personalities,” Jefferson claimed. “I just zoned out. I was just saying ‘yes.’ I don’t want to plead guilty.”
Mildred and Jefferson’s court-appointed attorney Randy Fisher told the court the plea agreement was explained repeatedly to Jefferson and his family. During the guilty plea hearing in December, Jefferson had to provide answers to questions establishing he had in fact committed the crime.
Since Jefferson’s court-appointed attorney had not filed a written motion withdrawing the guilty plea, Gull did not grant his request.
“I didn’t know I needed it,” Jefferson said. “I do not want this plea.”
Gull told Jefferson his attorney had not filed the motion because it was not in Jefferson’s best interest to withdraw his plea.
She then sentenced Jefferson to a total of 64 years in prison, with 10 years suspended and four years to be served on probation. The charges included one count of burglary causing injury, criminal confinement and four counts of robbery.
As Gull spoke, Jefferson’s mother shook her head. When Jefferson’s attorney went to explain the proceedings to her, Jefferson’s brother took after the lawyer.
“You (expletive deleted) my brother, dog,” he kept repeating over and over as Jefferson’s mother slapped her son in the face, covered his mouth with her hands, all in an unsuccessful attempt to quiet him.
After she left with her son at the behest of the bailiffs, Jefferson’s mother returned and then harassed the Harris brothers while they awaited their sentencing for their involvement in the crimes.
A visibly angry judge threw her out as well, ordering the bailiffs to take her all the way out to the sidewalk.
“This is ridiculous,” Gull said.
The Harris brothers – 22-year-old-twins Courtney and Corey – each received suspended prison sentences for their roles in the crimes.
Courtney Harris pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property, a felony, and was given a suspended prison sentence and three years on probation.
According to prosecutors, Courtney Harris was the driver in one of the robberies.
Corey Harris, a Marine, was sentenced to a year on probation for a misdemeanor charge of conversion.
A more serious felony charge of receiving stolen property was dismissed as part of his plea agreement with prosecutors. Corey Harris helped the crew get rid of the stolen items, prosecutors said.
On Monday, Tiron Beard was handed a three-year suspended prison sentence and ordered to serve three years on probation, also after pleading guilty to receiving stolen property in the robberies.