TRENTON, N.J. (CN) - A New Jersey appeals court set the stage Wednesday for a possible trial against a man hired to have an attorney's "ass whooped."
The defendant in the case, Vancleve Ashley, was arrested in 2002 after the lawyer he was hired to "straighten out," for $5,000, sustained life-threatening injuries.
On the day he was to do the deed, Ashley, who is also known as Qawee Ali, drove his wife's Jeep Liberty to the lawyer's office in Red Bank and brought two other men to help with the job, according to the ruling.
Though Ashley relayed the plan - "the job was to beat the lawyer['s] ass because he was a crook, too" - apparently, one of the other assailants didn't get the message.
Ashley allegedly told the men to wait for the lawyer to come outside so they could "beat the shit out of him," but one of the assailants, Raimaine York, instead struck the attorney with the Jeep at a speed of up to 20 mph.
"Nobody paid [him] to commit murder," Ashley told the court. "Nobody paid nobody to do no murdering with a vehicle registered to my wife."
Ashley made these statements as part of a guilty plea he tendered to the three charges against him: attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and aggravated assault.
Though those charges carried a potential 60-year prison sentence, the trial judge in Monmouth County had indicated he would consider handing down a 10-year sentence in exchange for Ashley's plea.
The trial court accepted Ashley's plea even though the prosecutor noted that Ashley's story "provided inadequate factual bases for the attempted murder and conspiracy counts," according to the ruling.
Ashley later used this same argument to try and withdraw his guilty plea ahead of sentencing. The trial court agreed with him - finding no factual basis for Ashley's guilty pleas to the attempted-murder and conspiracy counts - but kept the aggravated-assault plea intact.
The court then dismissed the attempted-murder and conspiracy counts, and sentenced Ashley to 10 years for aggravated assault.
Noting that he was supposed to serve 10 years for all three charges, Ashley began trying to withdraw his plea entirely. He noted that the York got an eight-year sentence, even though he had been considered "the primary assaulter."
A three-judge appellate panel agreed Wednesday that Ashley's 10-year sentence must be vacated, quoting precedent that says plea deals are "all or nothing" affairs.
"In doing so, we stress to our courts the importance of trial judges scrutinizing the factual basis offered by defendants in support of guilty pleas and the need for the rejection of those pleas that lack an adequate factual basis so as to avoid similar outcomes in the future," Judge Gary Rothstadt wrote for the panel.
Ashley identifies as "Moorish American," according to the ruling, a distinction that he says means he is subject only to laws mentioned in the 1786 peace treaty between the United States and Morocco, which is the longest unbroken treaty in U.S. history.
At the time he pleaded guilty to the charges at issue here, Ashley had already been serving lengthy sentences in connection to separate, unrelated convictions.
The vehicular assault that brought down Ashley involved divorce attorney Peter Paras, according to the court documents and reports of the case.
Paras had reportedly represented an accountant named Nicholas Lucarella who in turn blamed the attorney after losing custody of his three children.
The attorney survived the attack with fractures to his vertebrae, pelvis and ribs.
Insisting that these injuries were not part of the job, Ashley "later clarified that an 'ass whooping' consists of 'just beat[ing] his ass, little bumps and bruises, something simple,'" a footnote to the decision states.
Ashley had also said in the lead-up to trial that he was "willing to do his time."
"Thank God [Paras] didn't die because we would be here talking about something else," Ashley told the court. "I was paid to make sure this man get his ass whooped and he got ran over."
On remand, Ashley will again face all three charges and may replead.
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