The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

September 12, 2013

County DA apologizes for making plea deal

Home invader gets 10 to 20

By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer

PYMATUNING TOWNSHIP, HERMITAGE — Wednesday’s sentencing of a Youngstown man for a February home invasion and shooting in Pymatuning Township brought an unexpected apology from Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems.

“I admit I made a mistake in approving the plea agreement and I apologize for doing so to the citizens, victims and police,” Kochems said.

The plea deal called for Jessi L. Hudson to admit his guilt on two counts of aggravated assault and carrying a firearm without a license.

In exchange, Kochems agreed to drop a slew of charges including attempted homicide, aggravated assault on police, and 11 counts of aggravated assault.

Hudson broke into Amanda Bell’s home on Feb. 6 and shot her in the back as she protected her three children while hiding in the bathroom, according to police.

Common Pleas Court Judge John C. Reed said he had “no intention of straying from the agreement,” and sentenced Hudson to 10 to 20 years in state prison followed by 7 years’ probation.

Reed said he considered Hudson’s age, the testimony, and Hudson’s eight juvenile convictions when handing down the sentence.

Kochems explained his reasoning at the time for agreeing to the deal.

“I was more focused on my new policy of moving violent criminals out of our court system and county jail and into state prison with significant sentences without delays of more than a year than I was to the importance in this case to the police and victims and their families.” Kochems said.

Bell and her boyfriend, Richard Hughes, said they appreciated Kochems’ apology.

“I’m glad Mr. Kochems apologized for his mistake in the plea,” Hughes said. “I think our county should be tough on crime. There are too many drugs and violent crime here.”

During the testimony period at the hearing, Bell told her version of the home invasion:

Bell saw Hudson, who was dressed in all black, run past a window of her home.

She called 911 as she ushered her kids into a small bathroom and sat with her back against the door, her legs braced against the sink so Hudson could not get in.

He then knocked at the front door “for awhile,” Bell said.

The knocking switched to the back door, then turned into banging.

Bell then heard glass breaking. The 911 operator told her to be quiet just as her infant, 3 weeks old, started crying

Hudson began his attempts at getting her to come out of the bathroom.

Bell said she asked him multiple times what he wanted, and told him to take whatever he wanted and leave.

She said he kept saying, “Quit playing dumb.”

At that point, she got frantic and asked the 911 dispatcher how long until police would arrive.

That’s when Hudson shot her in the back through the bathroom door.

She heard police come in, unlocked the door and ran out.

“I told Hudson I had three babies in the bathroom and he shot three times anyway. He knew,” Bell said.

When Hudson’s turn came to speak he took the time to apologize to Bell for his behavior, as did his mother, Deborah Kelly.

“My son is not what they think he is. He did not intend for this to happen,” Kelly said.

She said that Hudson had taken a drug with the street name, “Molly” and was not in his right mind.

Bell said she was sorry for Hudson’s family. She said she accepts the apologies from Kochems, Kelly and Hudson.

“We are ready to get on with our lives,” Bell said.

Hughes also said he hopes Hudson learns a lesson after all the events he set into motion.

“I’ll accept his apologies for the atrocities he committed against my family,” Hughes said.

With his and Bell’s children in tow, Hughes testified on his family’s behalf.

“I brought the kids here because I wanted the judge and Jessi Hudson to see them,” Hughes said.

He introduced Rayen, now 7 months old; Isabella, 2; and Connor, 4.

Hughes said Hudson was very fortunate that night.

“Fortunate that I wasn’t home; he wasn’t killed by police; and he didn’t kill anyone,” Hughes said. “He missed Connor by an inch. He’s nothing but a coward.”

In August, Hughes expressed his frustration in the plea deal that Kochems approved for Hudson. “I’m really disappointed in the justice system. I’m very disappointed in Bob Kochems,” he said at the time.

Kochems was quick to round out his statement of apology in sentence court by assuring the community that he has no intention of making the same mistake twice.

“I have treated this case as a learning experience for my office and we are making changes to assure we avoid similar bad results in the future,” he said.