Shane S. DeLeon, the D.C. carpenter who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the January hit-and-run death of American University student Matthew Odell, contends that he is innocent and wants to withdraw his plea.
In court Sept. 2, DeLeon was "very upset, confused and disoriented," wrote the two public defenders who represented him that day. "While Mr. DeLeon ultimately pled guilty, he remained unconvinced of his guilt."
The lawyers, Renee Raymond and Jennifer Lanoff, have asked D.C. Superior Court Judge Patricia A. Wynn to allow them to withdraw from the case, in which sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 12. If Wynn grants their request, the judge would appoint a new lawyer to address this latest twist.
DeLeon, who is being held without bond, is not seeking to withdraw his guilty plea to a felony escape charge that stems from his having fled a District halfway house. He faces up to five years in prison on that charge.
DeLeon at first was charged with second-degree murder in the Jan. 28 death of Odell, 18, who was hit by a vehicle while rollerblading with a friend on Nebraska Avenue NW. In September, DeLeon pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison.
A witness told police that DeLeon drank four large draft beers at Babe's Billiards Cafe, a Wisconsin Avenue NW pool hall, on Jan. 28. Police said the accident occurred as DeLeon was driving his white 1998 Ford Ranger to the MacArthur Boulevard NW house where he was staying.
DeLeon had lost his Maryland driver's license after two 1994 drunken-driving convictions, but he had a D.C. driver's license when he climbed behind the wheel of his truck, police said.
The Ranger did not stop after hitting Odell on Nebraska Avenue, police said. DeLeon allegedly told a witness later that he thought he had struck a trash bag. Authorities say hair taken from the Ranger's windshield matched Odell's DNA.
DeLeon backed away from a guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter once before. And when he pleaded guilty in September, he first said he was speeding but had consumed only one beer. "I wasn't impaired that night, your honor," he said at the time.
After a recess, he said he had more than one beer but fewer than four. He acknowledged to Wynn that he had put people in danger by drinking and driving. After the hearing, Raymond and Lanoff asked for a short delay in sentencing to await results of a psychiatric evaluation.
A second-degree murder conviction requires a judge or jury to find that a suspect acted with conscious disregard of the risk of death or injury. With his guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter, DeLeon was admitting that he deviated from "a reasonable standard of care" and caused Odell's death.
In a motion filed with Wynn, the defense attorneys said DeLeon has "expressed disbelief" that his actions might add up to involuntary manslaughter. They said DeLeon has "limited experience with the criminal justice system."
The attorney also mentioned "another factor" that "became known to the defense after the plea" but that will be disclosed only in secret to Wynn. "Mr. DeLeon's firm desire to withdraw his guilty plea came on the heels of this recent discovery."
Raymond, reached yesterday by telephone, said she could not discuss the details of the request. The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.