Joseph Gentz — the Grosse Pointe Park handyman who confessed to police last year that he murdered Jane Bashara, allegedly at the behest of her husband, Robert Bashara — will not be withdrawing his plea deal after all.
Accompanied by his court-appointed attorney, Susan Reed, Gentz withdrew his request during a special post-conviction motion hearing July 17 in front of 3rd Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans.
Gentz, in his prison uniform, was largely silent for the hearing, letting Reed speak for him.
“Mr. Gentz has advised me he wants to withdraw the letter,” Reed told the judge.
When Evans asked Gentz if that was the case, he only said, “Yes, your honor.”
Gentz — who agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder during a special pretrial hearing Dec. 21, 2012 — was sentenced Feb. 19 to 17-28 years behind bars in a Michigan state prison. Had he not pleaded guilty, he was looking at first-degree murder charges and a longer prison sentence if convicted. Evans pointed out that by withdrawing his plea, he was facing having the original charge of first-degree murder reinstated.
Evans said Gentz could withdraw his plea if he chose to do so, but she chastised him for asking to withdraw the plea and then requesting to reinstate it.
“Let me tell you something, Mr. Gentz: This is not a game,” the judge said firmly. “This is very serious. … This county is suffering financially, and every time you decide you want to withdraw your plea, we have to spend money to bring you down here” to the courthouse from prison.
Reed said her client had been encouraged to write the letter by another inmate, a “jailhouse attorney.”
“He got erroneous information (in prison),” she said, adding that Gentz wanted to reinstate his plea deal.
Following the hearing, Reed spoke briefly to reporters gathered outside of the courtroom. She said Gentz had written and sent the letter to Evans without consulting with his attorneys. She only recently received the letter herself, having been sent a copy by the court.
“It’s not unusual at all for an inmate to write letters directly to the judge,” Reed said.
Although she said she didn’t try to convince Gentz to withdraw the letter, “I explained to him the ramifications” of such an action.
“I said I thought (he had) a very good deal,” Reed continued. She said her client has “lost weight” in prison, but otherwise, “He’s doing fine.”
Reed said she didn’t feel the motion to have the plea withdrawn would hurt Gentz’s credibility as a witness against Robert Bashara in Bashara’s upcoming murder trial. If anything, she said it underscores the nature of the relationship Gentz had with the Grosse Pointe Park businessman.
“Joe has been manipulated by people throughout,” Reed said. “This is just another example of someone manipulating him. … I don’t think it hurts him as a witness, because he’s standing by his plea. It shows how easy it is to manipulate him.”
She said Gentz “has confidence in his attorneys.”
Like other materials in the Gentz and Bashara cases, Gentz’s letter has been sealed. Lisa Lindsey, one of the attorneys with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office handling this case, said 36th District Court Chief Judge Kenneth King signed a protective order with regard to all investigative and discovery materials in this case, and Gentz’s letter needed to be considered part of that, so she asked Evans to seal the letter, as well.
“There are valid reasons … we believe the information and pleadings in this case … need to be sealed,” said Lindsey, who didn’t elaborate further.
Lindsey said Mark Procida, one of the court-appointed attorneys representing Bashara, had been given a copy of the letter.
“As it relates to Mr. Gentz, we have no objections,” Reed told the judge of the request to seal the letter.
After the hearing, Gentz was expected to be returned to the Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven, where he’s now incarcerated.
Like Gentz, Bashara is behind bars: On Dec. 10, Bashara was sentenced to six to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to solicitation of murder for attempting to hire someone to kill Gentz. And he could be looking at even more time in prison. On April 17, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office announced charges against Bashara in his wife’s killing, charging him with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, solicitation to commit murder, suborning of perjury during a capital trial, witness intimidation and obstruction of justice. There will be a pre-examination conference in the case at 9 a.m. Aug. 19 in 36th District Court, and a preliminary examination at 9 a.m. Sept. 9.
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