A man was sentenced to seven years in prison Wednesday after entering an Alford plea of guilty to aggravated burglary, a first-degree felony, following an incident in January when he allegedly entered a residence in the Rocky Fork Lake area with a knife.
As previously reported by The Times-Gazette, the Highland County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a residence on Juniper Trail in the lake area on Jan. 18 reporting that a male, later identified as Richard Hillard, 47, Winchester, had kicked the front door of the residence open and entered the home holding a knife.
According to Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera, an altercation ensued with the homeowner, who took the knife from Hillard. Hillard was escorted out of the residence, but then went to the back door of the home, kicked it in, and gained entry again, according to the sheriff.
Hillard then allegedly picked up a knife from inside the home and got into another altercation with the homeowner, Barrera said.
When deputies arrived at the scene, Hillard was standing in the doorway of the home and was taken into custody without incident.
Barrera said at the time it was his understanding that the occupants of the home did not know Hillard.
Hillard was charged with aggravated burglary and felonious assault, a second-degree felony. The felonious assault charge was dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Hillard entered an Alford plea of guilty, which does not admit the criminal act and even asserts innocence, but admits that the evidence would likely persuade a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
During Hillard’s sentencing hearing, Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins said the case was “very serious,” adding that although Hillard had no prior felony record, he seemed to have “jumped off the deep end.”
Defense attorney Bill Armintrout, who represented Hillard, said the homeowner “would have been justified in blowing my client to Mars,” although Hillard admitted he had smoked meth earlier that day, and was excessively paranoid after an alleged encounter with a person driving a white van who apparently threatened him.
According to Armintrout, Hillard feared for his life, enough to tell the homeowner, “Someone is trying to kill me,” after entering the home.
Armintrout asserted that Hillard never “brandished” the knife, but instead was holding it intending to defend himself.
“He didn’t intend to commit a crime,” Armintrout said.
Hillard was apologetic during the hearing, and said he was “just scared to death.”
Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss said he’s seen a lot of cases where methamphetamine has made people paranoid.
“I’ve seen a lot of meth cases,” Coss said, adding that the drug often makes people paranoid, but they “don’t lose their minds.”
Coss said Hillard’s actions couldn’t be excused because he consumed meth.
“The impact on these people is devastating,” Coss said. “You’re very lucky just to be alive… If you blast through my front door, I’ll shoot you… Assuming my dogs don’t get you first.”
Coss noted that Hillard’s sentence was already a “significant reduction” from what it could have been.
Hillard received 168 days credit for time served in the county jail.
Also Wednesday, defense attorney Richard Furnish asked the court twice to withdraw from a case to which he was appointed, citing the defendant’s “disrespect” as his primary complaint.
Coss denied the request the first time, but after some discussion in the judge’s chambers, Furnish asked again and his request was approved.
Furnish said Jody Watson, 38, Greenfield, was uncooperative and disrespectful, and Watson said he didn’t feel Furnish was doing a good job.
“I’ve been disrespected by him several times,” Furnish said, adding that Watson hung up on him during a prior phone call.
Watson said he would like to represent himself.
“I just don’t feel like he’s doing a good job,” Watson told the judge.
Coss said he would “reluctantly” allow Watson to represent himself, but not before saying he had never expected the two to have a good relationship.
“You’re not entitled to have an attorney you like,” Coss said to Watson. “I don’t expect you two to be friends or go out to dinner.”
Coss said he suspected the actual problem was that Furnish was telling Watson the truth and Watson simply didn’t want to hear it.
Watson is charged with illegal assembly or possession of chemicals for the manufacture of methamphetamine, a third-degree felony.
Also Wednesday, Daniel Spangler, 44, Frankfort, was sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to illegal assembly and having weapons under disability.
Cynthia Bray, 55, Hillsboro, was sentenced to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated possession of methamphetamine, a fifth-degree felony. Collins said Bray’s whereabouts were unknown for some time during her pretrial supervision.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.