Nathan Poffenbarger ’08, who previously pled guilty to hate crime charges, has applied to have his plea vacated. Poffenbarger, who is white, pled guilty to two felonies on Nov. 22 for the stabbing of Charles Holiday, a black student from Union College.
Hon. John C. Rowley, who presides over Poffenbarger’s case, will decide on both the vacating of Poffenbarger’s plea and Poffenbarger’s sentencing today at 3 p.m. Both Poffenbarger and Holiday will be in court today, said Poffenbarger’s lawyer, Joseph Joch ’66. The hearing is open to the public.
If sentenced for the guilty plea to two felonies, Poffenbarger faces 16 months to four years in state prison. According to his attorney, he will most likely receive a two-year sentence.
Joch, however, is pushing hard for the vacation of the guilty plea. He says that Poffenbarger may not have understood the full implications of his plea, and argues that the expected time in a maximum-security prison would be hard on his client.
“It would be hard to overstate the crushing emotional burden on Poffenbarger,” Joch said. “It’s important to lay out what really happened last February versus the public perception of what happened.”
According to Joch, Poffenbarger was under the impression that he would be sent to jail — not prison — for no more than eight months at the time he decided to plea guilty.
“Nathan believed that he would be eligible for ‘shock camp,’” Joch said.
The Shock Incarceration Program is an alternative to time spent in prison. Joch said the program is similar to boot camp.
However, in the application to vacate the guilty plea, Joch wrote that Poffenbarger would “certainly be turned down for Shock because his guilty plea was to an offense involving violence.”
If the guilty plea is not vacated and Poffenbarger receives a prison sentence, he would first go to Elmira Correctional Facility, where he would be “classified, tested, and then shipped out, most probably, to a maximum security prison because he was charged with a crime of violence,” Joch said.
Joch wrote in the application to vacate Poffenbarger’s plea that he had a discussion with the husband of a client who is a corrections officer at Elmira Correctional facility. According to the court document, the corrections officer said that that people are routinely slashed with makeshift weapons over trivialities such as cigarettes and that the only way to keep Poffenbarger safe in prison would be to place him under a 23-hour lockdown, without participating in any prison programs.
“If the guilty plea is vacated, Nathan’s case will be restored to trial calendar,” Joch said. Then, the case would be decided with a jury. Joch said that it would probably be a short time to trial if the plea is vacated.
Poffenbarger’s claim of misunderstanding his imprisonment situation is only one reason Joch decided to apply for the vacation of his plea. The Ithaca Journal reported that Joch said “a strong defense case” for Poffenbarger also played into the decision to vacate the plea.
“Prison for Poffenbarger is a much greater punishment than prison for an ordinary convict,” Joch said.