Error permits sexual assault case to be retried

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WALLA WALLA ­— A sexual assault case against a local man who was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison has essentially started over as the result of an April decision by a three-judge panel of the state Courts of Appeals in Spokane.

Under its opinion citing prosecutorial error, Phillip S. Ingram was allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas to sexually assaulting two underage girls he just met on New Years Day 2011.

Walla Walla County Superior Court John Lohrmann signed an order Tuesday that withdrew the pleas. A trial for Ingram is scheduled to begin Nov. 18.

He had his first appearance in court Sept. 30 after the appeals-court opinion became official. Therefore, under speedy-trial rules, actions had to be taken to schedule a trial date within 60 days.

The ruling allows Ingram to withdraw his guilty pleas or be resentenced by a different judge under terms of his initial plea agreement.

Ingram still has the option of resentencing, according to Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle.

Ingram recently was transferred from the state prison system to the County Jail, then was ordered to live with his grandparents on house arrest except for employment or school pending the eventual outcome of his case.

It was returned to Walla Walla County because at Ingram’s sentencing hearing in September 2011, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden undercut the plea agreement by suggesting to Lohrmann that a special sex-offender treatment alternative for Ingram wasn’t appropriate, according to the appeals-court ruling.

Ingram, now 21, had pleaded guilty to second-degree rape of a child and third-degree child molestation in exchange for a promise by Golden he would recommend the treatment alternative if Ingram was found amenable (meaning suitable). The alternative provides for a sentence of up to a year in the County Jail followed by outpatient sex-offender treatment.

Lohrmann — who wasn’t bound by any recommendation — rejected the alternative, ordering Ingram to serve a standard-range prison term of at least 10 years.

The assaults occurred at Ingram’s apartment in Eastgate. Ingram, then 18, had sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl and sexual contact with a 14-year-old after what police described as an “alcohol-fueled” New Year’s Eve party also attended by other teens.

Clinical psychologist Ronald Page determined before sentencing that Ingram was amenable to treatment in that his crimes were opportunistic rather than predatory to a significant degree, and he would obtain help in understanding his social responsibilities.

But a presentence investigation prepared by Community Corrections Officer Alison Smith of the Department of Corrections pointed out that Ingram wasn’t eligible for the treatment option because he didn’t admit responsibility for the crimes, didn’t have a prior relationship with the victims, and they and their families didn’t support such a sentence.

Golden indicated at sentencing that based on Smith’s report, he had reservations about Page’s determination. “But I will stay with it because Dr. Page thinks he might be able to work with (Ingram). But everything else frightens me.”

Although Lohrmann accepted Golden’s recommendation for the sentencing alternative, but ultimately rejected it, the appeals-court panel nevertheless ruled that Golden undermined the plea agreement. “The only report that specifically addressed Mr. Ingram’s amenability, meaning his treatment and risk to reoffend, came from Dr. Page,” the panel wrote.

“... We determine that the (prosecution) undercut the terms of the plea agreement by suggesting that (the sentencing alternative) was not appropriate ....”

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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