- Associated Press - Thursday, March 20, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Topeka man who is serving a life sentence for the killing of an 18-year-old woman is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, saying his trial lawyer frightened him into entering the plea so that he would avoid a possible death sentence.

Dustin Leftwich, 22, acted as his own attorney late last month when he filed a motion seeking permission to withdraw the plea and go to trial, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1ow99Ma ). He was sentenced in January 2013 to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, attempted rape and other charges in the slaying of Brenna Morgart.

Prosecutors say Morgart was jogging May 25, 2012, when Leftwich struck her with his car, forced her into his truck and tried to rape her before hitting her with a tire iron and throwing her into a creek. Authorities said Morgart drowned.

Leftwich could have faced the death penalty before he pleaded guilty, which eliminated capital punishment as a sentencing option.

In his motion to withdraw his plea, Leftwich says he pleaded guilty because of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel by his attorney, Kathleen Ambrosio.

“Defense counsel spent her entire time trying to instill fear into defendant that he will be put to death if he doesn’t plead guilty to the inflated charges that he is not guilty of,” according to the motion. “Defendant consistently told his defense attorney that he did not want to plead guilty, that he wanted to go to trial, but counsel continuously fear mongered him to take a plea.”

Ambrosio said Thursday said that she’s still technically Leftwich’s lawyer and declined comment further.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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