A man who was sentenced to 38 years in prison for armed violence, arson, fraud and theft claims he was manipulated by his attorney into entering a guilty plea even though he really was innocent of arson.
Wiley Yates, an inmate at Graham Correctional Facility in Hillsboro, filed a handwritten, 11-page lawsuit against attorney Thomas Hildebrand of Granite City, Jan. 26, accusing him of legal malpractice and criminal negligence.
And, while not claiming innocence on other charges for which he was convicted and sentenced, Yates claims Hildebrand did not properly represent him on weapons, fraud and theft charges that were "very much so defendable."
According to the complaint, Yates claims that because of his mental problems and lack of knowledge of law, Hildebrand owed him a special duty to ensure he was treated fairly. Yates contends Hildebrand believed he was “too stupid” to object to what was done to him.
Yates also claims damages because his mother died believing her son was guilty of crimes he did not commit.
“The shame and embarrassment of this situation is of an almost unbearable amount on the part of the plaintiff and his family as well,” the complaint states.
Yates, who is representing himself, claims that at a plea hearing on April 29, 2003, he was forced into a guilty plea by Hildebrand who was advised by the Wood River Police Department in a “clear-cut case of criminal coercion on the part of the defendant.”
According to the complaint, Yates was under the impression he would receive probation by pleading guilty, but later found out it was not a legal option. His suit claims he would not have pleaded guilty if he knew that.
While in his cell at the Madison County Jail in December of 2002, Hildebrand approached Yates about retaining him as counsel, according to the suit. Yates claims that he told Hildebrand he was indigent and could not pay for anything. According to Yates, Hildebrand told him he could work off the fees. Yates claims he told Hildebrand he would think about it.
When called to court on criminal charges on Jan. 21, 2003, Yates found he was being represented by Hildebrand, and not his public defender, Tyler Bateman.
Yates claims Hildebrand manipulated him into guilty pleas on his criminal cases before the court, and states that Hildebrand never made an attempt to defend him other than entering a guilty plea.
Hildebrand even left the sentencing open for the court to "do whatever it wished to do when it came down to sentencing," the complaint states.
Hildebrand negligently left an open plea when there should have been a cap on the sentencing to protect him, even though both of his cases were "very much so" defendable, according to Yates.
On April 29, 2003, Yates claims he was called back into court on an arson charge, and Hildebrand manipulated him into a guilty plea. Yates claims he was "completely" innocent in this case, and it would have been "easily winnable" in a jury trial.
By not proposing a sentence limit, the court "could do whatever it desired," Yates claims.
“This was wrong and should have never been allowed."
Yates also claims Hildebrand entered false information and distorted official reports in order for the judge to have a factual basis for accepting the plea.
When Yates refused to cooperate with assistant prosecutor Randy Bull, on a murder-for-hire case, Bull used his outstanding plea as a weapon to sentence him 14 years for a crime--arson--he did not commit, according to the suit.
Yates alleges that Hildebrand's caseload is so great that he has "no real hope of giving clients adequate representation the law mandates," Yates claims.
He also alleges Hildebrand told him to lie to the court about his mental illness, even though Yates' condition could have been a mitigating factor during sentencing.
"Severe mental anguish and physical toll trying to undo the damage" has been high, Yates claims.
Yates is asking the court not to bar his access to the court because of his position as a poor person and prays for a judgment in an amount that will “rightly and fairly compensate him for the serious damage as a result of the defendant’s legal malpractice.”
According to Illinois Department of Corrections records, Yates was convicted of aggravated robbery in 1997, armed robbery in 1997, and in 2003 arson, fraud, theft and armed violence with a weapon. He is eligible for parole in 2012.
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Philip Kardis.
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