A judge rejected a plea agreement on charges related to a series of break-ins and thefts last year as too lenient on Tuesday.
Yancey McMurtry, 27, was set to plead guilty to possession of stolen property, conspiracy to commit forgery and two drug charges. As part of a deal with prosecutors, three charges of possession of stolen property were set to be dismissed. The deal called for a deferred sentence on the possession of stolen property charge, one year in jail with 170 days suspended and credit for 195 days time served for the conspiracy charge and time-served sentences for the drug charges.
The charges stemmed from the burglary of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in September, as well as several cars around the same time. Yancey McMurtry was arrested along with three others after his cousin, Eden McMurtry, was caught trying to pass a forged check that had been stolen from the pastor of St. Peter’s.
Eden McMurtry pleaded guilty Thursday to four felony charges and was given a suspended sentence. As part of her plea deal, she will have to complete residential drug treatment.
Daniel Vondrachek, Yancey McMurtry’s public defender, said the agreement was balanced and that his client, who he said played a minor part in the break-ins and thefts, was taking responsibility.
“The term of probation will allow for victim restitution, if any, and give Mr. McMurtry the chance to prove himself again in society’s eyes,” Vondrachek told Northwest District Judge Kirsten Sjue.
Christopher Votava, assistant state’s attorney for Williams County, told Sjue that Yancey McMurtry had agreed to cooperate with police and testify against his co-defendants if they went to trial.
The other two men in the case, Joshua Ordaz and Landon Slade, are scheduled to have change of plea hearings next week.
After hearing the terms of the agreement, Sjue questioned the fairness of the deal.
“What’s the reason for treating Mr. McMurtry differently than Ms. McMurtry?” she asked Votava. “Because I just did her change of plea hearing last Thursday, and her charges were remaining as felonies. She was also being required to do inpatient drug treatment. Was his involvement lesser? What was the reason for a deferred and reducing to a misdemeanor in this case when Ms. McMurtry did not get that?”
Votava said part of the reasoning was the prosecution’s ability to tie Yancey McMurtry and his co-defendants to some pieces of stolen property but not others.
“The deferred is one, because Mr. Ordaz is going to be pleading guilty to that and taking that felony, as well, and it was the ability to tie certain things to certain individuals based on where they were picked up or who had the cards,” he said. “Ms. McMurtry had the purse of (one of the victims) and the cards on her person and … “
Sjue interrupted him.
“Well, those charges are being dismissed,” she said.
“Right, right, so those are being dismissed,” Votava said.
The deals for each of the four people accused were structured in such a way to make sure someone took responsibility for each aspect of the case, Votava said. He also said that while Eden McMurtry had cooperated with police, she’d also been arrested on new charges while out on bond.
“(Yancey McMurtry) hadn’t done anything after these charges that would damage his credibility, as was the case with Ms. McMurtry,” he told Sjue.
After the explanation, Sjue said she thought the deal wasn’t good enough, especially since Eden McMurtry had a more limited criminal history than Yancey McMurtry.
“I understand the reasons the parties have presented to me here today, I do,” she said. “However, based upon the conduct alleged here, I don’t quite see the same justifications the state does for treating Ms. McMurtry and Mr. McMurtry differently as far as the outcome, at least based on what I know. Ms. McMurtry, I guess, compared to Mr. McMurtry, had limited criminal history. It sounds like Mr. McMurtry has some more significant history. So with the deferred, with the reducing to a misdemeanor on these charges, I just don’t feel I can accept the agreement as it’s been presented. So I’m going to reject the plea agreement. Mr. McMurtry, I’m going to withdraw your guilty pleas here today, since they were entered pursuant to the agreement that I’m not going to accept.”
Since Sjue rejected the agreement, Yancey McMurtry’s case will be set for trial. A date has not been set.
Williston Herald staff assistant Jason Rojas contributed to this report.