Plea agreement in murder trial
In a surprise twist, the District Attorney’s office dropped murder charges against Lauren Hayes Wednesday and offered her a plea bargain, which she accepted.
“There was a lot of discussion and a lot of tears,” said Nevada County Public Defender Thomas Anderson of his client. “It was too good to pass up.”
Hayes appeared in court Wednesday morning and pleaded no contest to new charges of voluntary manslaughter, grand theft, and possession of a firearm with a special enhancement of possessing a firearm as a felon.
She is now eligible for a maximum of 13 years and four months in prison and a fine of $10,000, with a minimum possible sentence of five years in prison.
“I’m pleased we got a conviction,” Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal said Wednesday afternoon. “She needs to be off the streets and behind bars to protect the public.”
Because Hayes pleaded no contest to a violent felony, said Nevada County Superior Court Judge John Darlington, only 15 percent – or four and a half months – of the 30 months she has already spent in jail will go toward time already served. Hayes, periodically giggling as she was advised by Anderson, exchanged banter with the judge when he explained to her that no other judge can sentence her in the matter.
“If I get run over by a bus tomorrow, you’d have to start all of this over from the beginning,” Darlington said.
“I certainly hope that doesn’t happen,” Hayes said smiling.
After several evidentiary hearings, scheduled to begin today, Darlington is expected to hand down Hayes’ sentence within 60 days.
After changing her plea Wednesday morning, Hayes was led by a deputy past her parents and out of the courtroom with tears in her eyes.
“What a difficult decision to have to make,” Anderson said. “You can stand on principle or be practical.”
Until Wednesday’s plea change, Hayes was facing a possible sentence of life in prison for the murder of Lawrence Leffingwell, found shot in the back of the neck lying partially inside his Cadillac at Edward’s Crossing at the Yuba River on Sept. 5, 2003.
In a plea form submitted to the court, Assistant District Attorney Ron Wolfson said his reason for the offer is “possible concerns about sufficiency of evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Wolfson said a plea offer had been on the table earlier in this case, but the court first needed to address several issues raised by Anderson about the investigation of the case.
Evidence implicating Hayes, Wolfson said, will be divulged in the presentencing hearings. Hayes admitted to investigators she was present during the shooting and pointed to Joshua Everton, of Cedar Ridge, as an accomplice.
To date, no charges have been filed against Everton in connection to this case.
Wolfson said he does not refute the theory that someone else may have been involved in the killing, but no evidence exists that would implicate a third party. Wolfson said evidence shows that Hayes was an active participant in the crime.
“I have always believed that this is a robbery that ended up with someone being murdered,” he said. “She was involved in the killing.”
In a Feb. 17 pretrial hearing, Wolfson said testimony from Hayes’ fellow Placer County Jail inmates would show that Hayes lured Leffingwell to the river with the promise of sex and the intention of robbing him.
According to California criminal law, he said, any “principle” or accomplice involved in certain crimes that turn deadly – including robbery – can be charged and sentenced for murder.
The first evidentiary hearing in the Hayes case will begin at 9 a.m. today in Nevada County Superior Court.
To contact staff writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4236.
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