7.30.2009

Plea Deal

One suspect in 2008 Cutten killing takes plea deal

One of two defendants accused of participating in a December 2008 home invasion robbery that left a Cutten man dead pleaded no contest Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter and related drug charges.

Jury selection for the trial of Jason Leon Belles, 31, and Jonathan Henry Watson, 30, was set to begin Monday but Belles pleaded Tuesday to reduced charges. He will be sentenced Aug. 21. The stipulated term of the plea deal was seven years and eight months in prison, according to court documents.

Belles' attorney William Bragg said that although they felt Belles had a good defense for the jury trial, Belles did not want to risk a life sentence.

”My client evaluated the risk involved in the case of taking it to trial and was not willing to risk the rest of his life on that,” Bragg said. “I could not guarantee my client that I could win the case. No attorney can.”

With good behavior, Belles may only have to serve 85 percent of his proposed sentence, or about six-and-a-half years, minus time already served, Bragg said.

Belles accepted the plea deal from Deputy District Attorney Max Cardoza that reduced a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter; a first-degree burglary charge to transporting more than an ounce of marijuana; and a first-degree attempted robbery charge to possessing marijuana for sale, according to court documents. A second attempted robbery charge was dismissed.....

Watson's jury trial is now scheduled to begin Aug. 5 with jury selection beginning Aug. 3, according to court documents. He is charged with murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and being a felon in possession of a firearm.