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8/15/2014 4:30:00 PM
Whitefield Man to Serve 30 Days in Alleged "Slashing" Case
Richard C. Staples
Richard C. Staples
By Dominik Lobkowicz

A Whitefield man was sentenced to 30 days in jail for two misdemeanors after felony aggravated assault charges against him for allegedly choking and "slashing" his then-girlfriend were dismissed.

Richard C. Staples, 31, entered "Alford" pleas to charges of domestic violence assault, class D, and violating condition of release, class E, in Lincoln County Superior Court Aug. 14.

"An Alford plea is a plea where a defendant pleads guilty but specifically denies that the conduct occurred. In doing so, all the defendant acknowledges is that if the state produced all of the evidence it said it could, then a jury could, but not necessarily would, convict the defendant," said Walt McKee, Staples' defense attorney.

The pleas came as part of an agreement where charges of elevated aggravated assault, class A, aggravated assault, class B, obstructing report of crime or injury, class D, and a later class C charge of violating condition of release were dismissed.

Staples could have faced up to 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for the elevated aggravated assault charge alone.

"It was a difficult decision for Mr. Staples, but the risks of being convicted of the aggravated assault were there, and even though we felt confident we could win the case, the slim chance that we would lose was too much risk," McKee said.

The case was set to go to jury trial the morning of the plea hearing.

As part of the justification for the plea agreement, Wright said the victim in the case suffers from serious anxiety, did not want to appear in the courtroom, and is "in support of what we're doing."

In the incident in question, which occurred in Bristol on Dec. 22, Staples was alleged to have choked the victim and cut the woman's hand with a kitchen knife deep enough to be described as a "substantial" injury, according to Lincoln County Sheriff's Lt. Michael Murphy.

"There was a lot of blood at the scene," Murphy said previously, describing the alleged attack as "more of a slashing than a stabbing."

"At one point, he was holding her on the ground, choking her," Murphy alleged.

Staples then allegedly "smashed her phone" when she tried to call for help, but the victim was eventually able to leave the house and call 911, Murphy said.

In the courtroom, McKee said the incident included a struggle between Staples and the victim that did involve a knife.

"He was in fact taking the knife away from her to avoid getting stabbed," McKee said.

Wright said following the hearing that there has always been a self-defense component in the case, but still described it as "very triable."

Other information from law enforcement that came to light since jury selection on Aug. 8 would have strengthened the state's case, but due to the timing it would have been excluded from the trial, Wright said.

Other contributing factors in making the plea deal were looking out for the victim regarding testifying, protecting her from further violence, and requiring Staples to complete a certified batterers intervention program, which will hopefully help prevent similar situations from occurring in the future, Wright said.

"It's still a good outcome of the charge," he said.

McKee described the plea agreement as "bittersweet probably for all parties."

For the domestic violence assault, Staples was sentenced to 364 days in jail with all but 30 days suspended, and two years probation.

Probation conditions include no use or possession of illegal drugs or alcohol and random searches and testing for both; no contact with the victim; and completing a certified batterers intervention program.

Staples will also have to pay $616 in restitution to the victim for medical expenses.

For the violating condition of release, he received a 30-day concurrent jail sentence.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm accepted the agreed upon sentence, saying "the fact that she [the victim] is in agreement with this makes a big difference to me."

Hjelm stayed execution of Staples' jail sentence until Sept. 1, but probation was to begin immediately, he said.

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