Cleveland County Judge Rejects Beheading Suspect's Guilty Plea

In general, when a person enters a guilty plea in a criminal court proceeding, that plea of guilt is the result of negotiations between the prosecution and the defense. In some cases, for example, a defendant may plead guilty to a lesser crime, or may plead guilty in exchange for the prosecution's recommendation of a lighter sentence. The prosecution earns a conviction, and the defendant has what is likely a more favorable outcome than if the case went to trial. Both sides avoid the time and expense of a jury trial.

Typically, when a defendant pleads guilty, a judge will accept the guilty plea and resolve the case. However, this is not always true. In a deferred sentence, for example, the defendant pleads guilty and the judge delays acceptance of that plea in order to give the defendant time to serve probation. If the defendant successfully completes his or her probation, the judge dismisses the case, rather than accepts the guilty plea. If the defendant does not adhere to the terms of his or her probation, the judge will accelerate sentencing, accept the guilty plea, and convict the defendant.

But in Cleveland County today, a judge rejected a guilty plea for a much different reason.

Alton Nolen is charged with beheading a co-worker and attempting to behead another before being shot by the CEO of Vaughan Foods, from where Nolen had just been recently suspended.

Initially, Nolen's defense argued that he was mentally impaired; however, in November, despite conflicting testimony about the defendant's mental state, a judge rejected the defense argument and found Nolen competent to stand trial.

This week, the defendant pleaded guilty to first degree murder. Cleveland County Judge Lori Walkley, noting that there had been no plea offer or arrangement between the prosecution and the defense, rejected Nolen's guilty plea and instead entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. 

According to the summary of Nolen's arraignment, the prosecution and defense disagree regarding the defendant's mental competency. He is facing the possibility of the death penalty for first degree murder, and 20 years to life for each of two counts of assault and battery with a deadly weapon.

His next court date is scheduled for May 20.

Image credit: Joe Gratz

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