Saying he didn’t think he deserved 11 years in prison for his role in an armed home invasion robbery, Michael Durham asked Boyle Circuit Judge Darren Peckler on Thursday to withdraw his guilty plea and set the case for trial.
But Peckler declined the request and sentenced him to 11 years, leaving Durham shaking his head and vowing to have the decision overturned on appeal.
Durham’s route to his sentencing has been twisted since he and his cousin, Shawn Durham, were charged in the 2010 home invasion robbery of Warren and Mary Bigger of Junction City, during which Warren Bigger was pistol-whipped and Mary Bigger was threatened with a gun until she disclosed the location of valuables in the home. Old coins, jewelry, cash and a laptop computer were taken during the robbery.
Shawn Durham pleaded guilty in March and received an 11-year sentence in a plea deal with prosecutors. Michael Durham was offered the same deal, but turned it down and his case was set for trial in June. Durham was then indicted for being a persistent felony offender, upping the prison time he could receive if he was found guilty at trial.
Durham reconsidered his situation and decided to enter a guilty plea in exchange for an 11-year sentence just before his trial was to begin. When Peckler was ready to formally sentence him last week, Durham changed directions again, telling Peckler he wanted to fire his attorney, withdraw his guilty plea and represent himself at trial.
During Thursday’s hearing, Durham told Peckler that none of the three attorneys who have represented him in the case wanted to “help me and argue for me,” and that all of them encouraged him to take the plea bargain. Peckler said the attorneys apparently did well by Durham, negotiating a possible life sentence down to 11 years, which he called “a fairly significant reduction.”
Durham, however, said he didn’t deserve the same sentence as his cousin, whom he alleged carried the pistol into the Bigger’s home and used it to beat and threaten them.
“I didn’t have a firearm. I didn’t do anything violent,” he told the judge. “I don’t have a violent past.”
Peckler said that might be true, but under the law Durham is still considered an accomplice and equally responsible for the crimes committed.
“You’re making a terrible gamble with years of your life,” the judge told Durham.
In the end, Peckler told Durham, “We went over your guilty plea very carefully. You didn’t give me any indication you didn’t understand,” and said Durham did not present a valid reason the guilty plea should be withdrawn.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Richie Bottoms argued against the withdrawal, even though — with the Biggers prepared to testify as victims and eyewitnesses — “this would be an easy case for me to try.”
“The two victims in this case are very nice, very kind people who are satisfied with the guilty plea and sentence, and just want to get some closure on this matter,” Bottoms said.