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Guilty Plea Was "gut-wrenching' For Family

Practice Areas

February 29, 2012

By Kayleigh Zyskowski

The State Journal

February 29, 2012

Joe Gregory Wilson confers with his lawyers Tuesday before pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter. Tricia Spaulding/ tspaulding@state-journal.com

After Tuesday's agreement, Joe Gregory Wilson pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter with the family of the victim, Bette Winn, on board with the commonwealth's recommendation.

Wilson — who was taken into custody following his plea — could serve five years for Winn's death. However, the commonwealth said it would not oppose shock probation after he serves 60 days.

In what seemed like an overnight turnaround after Monday's first day of trial, Wilson's attorney, David Guarnieri, said, "In a case like this, negotiations are always evolving."

"(The negotiations) were ongoing before the trial started, and it's not necessarily that anything changed," Guarnieri told The State Journal. "It was a culmination of a process."

Wilson pleaded guilty to beating Winn in the early morning hours of Oct. 17, 2009. Winn died the next day from head injuries resulting from the beating.

Wilson was arrested Oct. 17 on a charge of domestic violence in the fourth degree and was charged with manslaughter the following July.

Wilson wore a gray suit jacket as he hugged his mother goodbye and shook his father's hand as the court convened. Before Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate took his seat, about 10 members from Winn's family entered the courtroom.

"... This agreement has been reached after extensive discussions with the victim's family," special prosecutor David Nutgrass told the court.

The family went through "a very gut wrenching" decision, Nutgrass told The State Journal.

"... There was going to be some closure in the next couple of days one way or the other, and there was even going to be closure with a not guilty verdict, all though it wouldn't be the kind that we would have wanted," he said after court.

"I believe that in the end (the family) weighed the risks in much the same way that the lawyers and Mr. Wilson did."

As part of the agreement, the charge of first-degree manslaughter, a Class B felony that carries a minimum of 10 years in prison, was amended to second-degree manslaughter, a Class C felony that carries a minimum of five years in prison.

"... Manslaughter in the first degree is statutorily defined as a violent offense, and the parole eligibility is quite a bit different," Nutgrass said.

Wilson would not have been probation eligible on the first-degree manslaughter charge.

The defense plans to make a motion for work release while he is incarcerated. Wilson will be sentenced April 13.

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