WALLA WALLA -- One of two defendants accused of a home invasion robbery on Southeast Fourth Street in College Place this spring pleaded guilty Tuesday to reduced charges in exchange for his cooperation in the case.
Antonio S. Contreras, 24, entered the guilty pleas in Superior Court to third-degree assault and second-degree theft.
Because of his extensive criminal history, Contreras, of 922 W. Alder St. in Walla Walla, faces a standard-range prison term of about four to five years when he's sentenced later. But the prosecution is recommending an exceptionally short sentence of 11 months in the County Jail because Contreras came forward, cooperated and agreed to testify against his co-defendant, Adam A. Hermanns, at Hermanns' trial scheduled to begin July 13.
Judge Donald W. Schacht -- who accepted Contreras' guilty pleas at Tuesday's hearing -- will pronounce sentence after Hermanns' trial, at which Schacht will preside.
Contreras' guilty pleas negate the need for his trial, which was scheduled for the fall. He initially was charged with first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and first-degree kidnapping -- the same charges Hermanns faces -- which if convicted would have netted him decades in prison.
Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle acknowledged in an interview the plea agreement with Contreras resulted in a significant reduction in charges and a lenient sentencing recommendation, but said it was an inducement for his guilty pleas and cooperation. Nagle said Contreras is a vital witness against Hermanns, 23, who also is charged with first-degree burglary and second-degree assault for allegedly entering another occupied residence in College Place.
"We need (Contreras' information) in order to make our case," Nagle said.
He added that state law allows such a plea agreement and the victims understand why it was necessary.
Also, Nagle pointed out that Schacht made it abundantly clear at Contreras' plea hearing Tuesday that he isn't bound by anyone's sentencing recommendation. Schacht could hand Contreras five years or longer because of his vast criminal record.
"(Schacht) will have ample opportunity at (Hermanns') trial to determine whether Mr. Contreras' assistance and cooperation is of any value," Nagle said.
In pleading guilty Tuesday, Contreras formally admitted involvement in the home invasion April 3 at 204 S.E. Fourth St. College Place police said he and Hermanns -- wearing masks over their faces -- entered the apartment of Dorothy Schneider about 10:55 p.m. while she was asleep on the couch and confronted her. Her daughter, Cally Schneider, also was in the home and Contreras told her to sit down and not move or he would kill her, according to a police report filed in court.
Contreras, who displayed a knife, took Dorothy Schneider's purse from a bedroom, officials said. Hermanns is suspected of going into the bathroom and stealing prescription medication.
The robbers then fled.
Law enforcement officials later interviewed Contreras as a possible suspect and he admitted committing the home invasion with Hermanns. Contreras reportedly told authorities it was Hermanns' plan and that Hermanns was carrying a handgun in his waistband when the robbery occurred.
Contreras also said Hermanns had admitted to him he burglarized an apartment on Puff Lane a few days earlier.
In that crime, Hermanns is suspected of donning a black ski mask, arming himself with a knife and entering the residence of Andy Porter at 1027 Puff Lane, Apt. H, about 9:45 p.m. March 29.
The burglar held the knife pointing down as he approached Porter at his dining room table, police said. Porter grabbed for the burglar's hand and suffered wounds to his own hand in the process. The burglar walked out of the apartment after Porter drew a revolver from his right pants pocket and pointed it at the intruder's chest.
Porter is a reporter for the Union-Bulletin.
Hermanns and Contreras are incarcerated in the County Jail. Hermanns -- whose criminal history includes burglary and possessing stolen property convictions -- also is facing additional charges in unrelated cases.
Terry McConn can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8319.