Oneida County Judge Michael Dwyer is expected to render a decision by the end of October on the request of Brandon Clark to withdraw his guilty plea for the killing Bianca Devins in July of 2019. After hearing testimony from three witnesses Wednesday, Judge Dwyer said that he will issue a written decision by October 30, 2020. The parties in the case will appear in court on November 10, 2020. At that time, Brandon Clark will either be sentenced to 25 years to life for pleading guilty to Second Degree murder in the death of Bianca Devins or the judge will set a date for the next step toward a trial for Clark.
Clark was the first witness on the stand at Wednesday’s hearing. Clark testified that he had realized that a large amount of evidence was missing and he told the court that had he known that he would not have entered his guilty plea. Clark also said he was coerced into the guilty plea and that he was told he could change his plea at any time. Clark testified that he understood that if he presented a defense of having acted under extreme emotional distress the murder charge against him could have been lowered to manslaughter.
During the prosecution’s questioning of Clark transcripts of the February 10th court appearance were read to the witness. In the transcript, Clark had said that he was aware of the extreme emotional disturbance defense and that he was pleading guilty so as to spare the victim’s family the pain of experiencing the evidence that would come out at trial. Clark had also said at the February court session, where he made his guilty plea, that he was satisfied with the job his attorney had done. Brandon Clark was the only witness called by the defense.
Clark’s Public Defender attorney Luke Nebush was called to testify as a witness for the county prosecutor. Nebush testified that, during a hospital visit with Clark, he suggested that Clark consider the extreme emotional disturbance defense. Nebush also testified that he recommended that Clark go to trial because there was no sentence reduction associated with a guilty plea. He said that he did not tell Clark to plead guilty.
Nebush also told the court that he met with his client more than a dozen times at the Oneida County Jail and that Clark never told the attorney that he was unhappy with his work. Kurt Schultz, who also represented Brandon Clark, also was put on the witness stand. Schultz testified that Clark told him he was unhappy with Nebush because Nebush preferred the case to go to trial.
On February 10, 2020, Clark appeared in Oneida County Court and pleaded guilty to Second Degree Murder for the death of Devins. Clark told the court that he was changing his plea to guilty. At that time, Clark told the court, “I think I need to realize what I did I can’t undo, as much as I want to.” Clark was facing 25 years to life in prison as a result of his plea. He was scheduled to be sentenced on July 28, 2020.
But, when he went before Judge Dwyer in July, instead of being sentenced, Clark asked to get a new attorney to represent him and to withdraw his guilty plea. Clark told the court that he felt that he didn’t get adequate representation and that he felt his choice to plead guilty was ill informed. Judge Dwyer appointed Gregg Starczewski to be Clark’s new lawyer during his appeal.
Clark had been scheduled to be sentenced for his original guilty plea on April 6, 2020, but that date was changed when the state court system closed due to the COVID – 19 outbreak.