CEDAR CITY — In an unexpected turn of events, the man accused of robbing a Cedar City Texaco at knife point on Dec. 26, 2014, pleaded guilty in a preliminary hearing in an Iron County 5th District courtroom Wednesday morning.
In exchange for St. George resident Louis Eleuterio McNeal-Sandoval’s guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop the class B misdemeanor theft charge, amending the charges to include only aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony.
Judge John J. Walton asked McNeal-Sandoval’s defense attorney, James M. Park, if there were any other promises made to his client in exchange for the guilty plea and was informed by both Park and McNeal-Sandoval that there were not.
A presentence investigation will be conducted by Iron County Adult Probation and Parole to determine a recommendation on behalf of the state to offer the judge at sentencing, Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett said.
The final outcome will ultimately fall into the hands of the judge presiding over the case, Garrett said. Currently, McNeal-Sandoval is facing a five-years-to-life sentence, he said, but the judge could choose to stay that if he wanted and give him probation with credit for time served.
“So, no promises,” Garrett said. “It’s just that the PSI will recommend a sentence. We’ll argue for prison, five to life — I don’t know what the defendant will argue for — and we’ll go from there.”
Aggravated robbery does not carry a minimum required sentence, Garrett said, which is what would give the judge a degree of latitude in this situation.
“So what that means is, if the judge decides that probation was appropriate, he could place him on probation,” Garrett said. “(But) typically in a case like this, I think it would be unusual for probation to be granted, so my guess is he would probably be going to prison for five to life, but it’s up to the judge to decide that.”
Former Texaco cashier Lindsy Hold, who was the only employee working in the Texaco at the time the robbery took place, said she was just relieved that it was almost over, because she had been prepared for him to fight the charges.
Hold was informed at a July 15 preliminary hearing for McNeal-Sandoval, which was continued, that he intended to take the matter to trial and it could take longer than she hoped.
The one thing she has been the most grateful for throughout the ordeal, Hold said, has been the tremendous amount of support from friends and family who attended court with her every time.
McNeal-Sandoval’s surprise guilty plea was “the best thing ever,” she said, explaining how surreal everything felt to her.
Though he said it was not his case, Garrett confirmed that the outcome of McNeal-Sandoval’s plea would not change the agreement that was struck with his codefendant Benjamin Wulfenstein, of Elko, Nevada. Wulfenstein agreed to testify against McNeal-Sandoval in exchange for a lighter sentence.
“(McNeal-Sandoval’s plea) shouldn’t affect Wulfenstein’s case at all,” Garrett said. “We just lined him up in case we needed him.”
Wulfenstein accepted a plea agreement July 14 that dismissed the original charges of first-degree felony aggravated robbery and class B misdemeanor theft and amended them to just one charge of robbery, a second-degree felony, according to court documents.
Wulfenstein’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 25
The third codefendant in the robbery, Victoria Elizabeth Fanton, of St. George, took a plea agreement in January and was sentenced in March to serve 270 days in the Iron County Jail, with credit for time served as part of her sentence. Fanton’s time began Dec. 29 when she was arrested.
A notice of completion of jail commitment was issued Tuesday on Fanton’s behalf from the Iron County Jail. The document stated Fanton was released from jail July 27.
Fanton still had outstanding warrants in her name in Washington County, an official at the jail said, but there was no record in their system of a transfer of custody. The system did show, however, that Fanton’s early release was earned through good behavior incentives called good-time credit.
Inmates can earn good-time credit in a variety of ways, from good behavior to completing life skills packets and attending school.
“She got two months good-time credit, so she got 60 days off of the nine months of her sentence,” the official said.
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