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June 14, 2013

Man’s guilty plea sticks

Was sentenced in fatal crash

MERCER COUNTY — Joseph Diefenderfer has done some jailhouse lawyering in the two weeks since he was sentenced to 3 1/2 to 14 years in prison for leaving the scene of a fatal accident, and concluded he got a raw deal.

A judge said he will have to live with it, at least until the appeals process plays out.

Diefenderfer, 23, of Fredonia, pleaded guilty to two counts of the leaving the scene of the motorcycle crash April 21, 2010, in West Salem Township, where Benjamin Alabran, 25, and Cassandra Keck, 21, both of Greenville, were killed.

Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas R. Dobson made the sentences for each count run back to back instead of together.

Diefenderfer on Thursday asked Dobson if he could withdraw his guilty plea on the grounds that he could not be convicted of two counts of leaving the scene – “You can’t leave the scene twice,” he said – and that he did not understand the sentencing guidelines and that he would not be eligible for an early release program.

Dobson said Diefenderfer was combining the two separate tracks of appeal. He can file a direct appeal, which challenges the technical aspects of the case, or an appeal under the Post Conviction Relief Act, which would attack the effectiveness of his attorney, Tedd R. Nesbit.

A direct appeal must be filed within 30 days of sentencing, while a PCAR appeal is filed with a year of final judgment, when the window closes on a direct appeal.

If he tries to combine the issues, he could give up the right to argue that he could not be convicted on two counts, Dobson said. Dobson added that he will lose that appeal.

“The legal argument is dead wrong,” Dobson said. “You left each victim at the scene. That’s why there are two crimes.”

On Diefenderfer’s other issues, he would have to give up Nesbit’s representation as they would become foes, and Nesbit would be called to testify as to what he told Diefenderfer during plea discussions, Dobson said.

Diefenderfer agreed to reduce his issues to the challenge of the two counts, and Dobson denied the request, setting up an appeal to Superior Court.

Diefenderfer said he was not protesting the sentence that Dobson handed down.

“I don’t feel that I am guilty,” Diefenderfer said, adding that he had read up on his issues and talked to other lawyers. “I feel that I made a wrong decision and I should go to jury trial.”

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