Man pleads guilty to felony sex abuse of a child; judge says he ‘wouldn’t be bound’ by settlement agreement

Composite image. | Warren Black's booking photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A 43-year-old St. George man accused of aggravated sexual abuse of a 5-year-old girl in 2017 appeared for a resolution hearing in 5th District Court Tuesday, after three years of postponements, canceled trials and legal maneuvering through the courts.

Warren Leonard Black appeared before District Judge Jeffrey C. Wilcox for a hearing held at 5th District Court where the defendant’s defense attorney, Michael Lastowski, went over a motion filed with the court involving a proposed settlement in the case.

Black was arrested in June 2017 following an investigation into a report received by the Division of Child and Family Services involving a 5-year-old St. George girl who had disclosed details of suspected sexual abuse involving the suspect, who was later identified as Black, according to charging documents filed with the court.

The defendant was subsequently charged with two first-degree felony counts of aggravated sex abuse of a child.

According to the settlement agreement proposed by the defense during Tuesday’s hearing, Black would plead guilty to two second-degree felony counts of sexual abuse of a child.

Relating to the plea agreement, Lastowski said the main point he wanted to make in open court was that the state agreed to recommend the defendant be placed on supervised probation and that prosecutors would not include a prison sentence in their recommendation, adding both sides “are free to argue terms within that sentencing matrix guidelines.”

2017 booking photo of Warren Leonard Black, of St. George, Utah, posted June 27, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Wilcox then asked prosecutor Ryan Shaum if the state agreed to those terms.

“We’ve accepted the plea to the two second-degree felonies,” he said. “And to follow the party’s recommendation that the defendant will be sentenced to something less than incarceration.”

Wilcox then asked why the court should accept second-degree felonies instead of the first-degree felony charges filed in the case. Shaum said that after discussions with the defense and taking into consideration the evidence in the case, “as it is, and in the interest of justice,” he said the state has agreed to accept the defense’s terms.

The judge then said that while he is not “going to look over the state’s shoulder on how they pursue their cases,” he doesn’t have a problem with the reduction of the charges from first-degree to second-degree.

However, he said, “I do have a problem with saying … as a judge that would administer the sentence,” he said, “that I would walk in lockstep and not recommend a prison sentence.”

Wilcox went on to say that sentencing is based on several factors, including the presentence report, which is a report prepared by a probation officer to assist the court in deciding on a sentence, and includes information on the defendant’s background, criminal and family history, and other factors that can serve as a mitigating factor during sentencing.

Addressing Black, Wilcox said he is not bound by the terms of the agreement made between the defense and the state and reiterated his position.

“I want to be clear that I wouldn’t be bound,” Wilcox said.

Lastowski responded by saying that his client “will go forward and take a shot at sentencing with the state’s recommendation.”

After confirming that Black signed and understood the plea agreement, the defendant entered his guilty plea to both counts and was subsequently scheduled to appear for sentencing Aug. 18, and the presentence report was ordered by the court.

Shaum told St. George News that further details outlining the reasoning behind the state’s position cannot be released due to the sensitive nature of the case and the age of the victim, but he stated that his hands were tied, “and the evidence is only as good as what can be proven at trial.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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