Created on Saturday, 03 May 2014 Written by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CANTON, Ohio (AP) — A young Ohio man changed his mind about going to trial for attempted murder, instead pleading guilty to a lesser charge after his alleged victim intervened and asked that he be given a light sentence.
Craig Burgess, 18, of Canton, would have faced 11 years in prison had he been convicted at trial, set to begin Thursday in Stark County court.
Burgess was accused of plotting to rob and kill Bill Fowler, his mother's former boyfriend and the man he considers to be his father.
Before the court proceeding began Thursday, the 62-year-old Fowler asked to speak with Burgess behind closed doors.
"I love you, I forgive you, I'll be there for you," Fowler told Burgess, according to defense attorney Rick Pitinii.
Burgess changed his mind and accepted a plea deal that had been taken off the table, pleading guilty to felonious assault, according to The (Canton) Repository, (http://bit.ly/1mllmWq).
At Fowler's request, Judge Kristin Farmer gave Burgess a relatively light sentence: four years in prison, with a chance for early release after three months.
In order to get early release, Burgess must follow prison rules and seek mental health counseling and other assistance.
"Obviously you have been given a rare opportunity as a result of your father's love for you," Farmer told Burgess. "I hope you appreciate that. I hope that is motivation for you to do well."
Attorneys said the turn of events was rare.
"I've never had a victim in a case say, 'Give me the opportunity to try to talk some sense into (the defendant),' and want such a minimum sentence," said Michael Bickis, an assistant Stark County prosecutor. "I think it speaks volumes for Mr. Fowler."
Bickis said he had a strong case against Burgess.
In December, Burgess and a friend wanted to flee the Canton area; the friend was wanted on a warrant and police were investigating Burgess in another matter, prosecutors say.
After Canal Fulton police tracked down Burgess' friend, they discovered a murder plot against Fowler.
Police then set up an undercover operation, arranging for Burgess to meet with an acquaintance in a gas station parking lot on Dec. 12 to pick up a gun to rob and kill Fowler, prosecutors say.
Burgess then was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Without the help of Canal Fulton police, Bickis said, "I don't know how this would have turned out."
"Mr. Fowler has more compassion than I think I would have in those circumstances," he said.
Burgess spoke in court and referred to Fowler as his father.
"I don't trust very many people," he said as his voice cracked. "It's hard for me to, but I trust my dad more than anybody. He's the only thing I have close to a dad."
Fowler, who recently underwent heart surgery, said that by pleading guilty in the case, Burgess was choosing a new beginning.
"He's not a bad kid," Fowler said. "He just has a lot of issues that he needs to get worked out. When he comes back (from prison) he needs to open up to the counselors ... and get things straightened out."