Judge denies Schifferns guilty plea withdrawal

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Eleanor Guerrero
Thomas Schifferns has been denied the withdrawal of his earlier guilty plea in the intentional homicide of James “Jimmy” McGregor.

On June 12, Judge Matthew Wald denied Thomas Schifferns’ Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea for intentional homicide in the death of James “Jimmy” McGregor. 

Schifferns is represented by Gregory Paskell and Alex Nixon and Shannon Foley represent the State. 

On May 17, 2019, Schifferns filed a Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea. He had originally pled guilty to one count of intentional Homicide on March 26. Pursuant to a plea agreement, all additional charges would be dropped and he would be recommended to serve a life sentence allowing parole, which if accepted by the judge, would drop approximately 90 years off his possible maximum sentence. 

The State claims Schifferns’ Motion “contains no newly discovered evidence” for good cause to withdraw the plea. The defendant received a “substantial benefit” from the plea agreement in that he had a shorter than maximum recommended sentence, and the other felony charges of Robbery, and two counts of Tampering with or Fabricating Physical Evidence would be dismissed. The Court made “specific findings that Defendant’s plea was entered freely and voluntarily and with an understanding of his constitutional rights.” 

Just having a fear of trial or suffering depression for which he was receiving treatment was not sufficient. The very nature of the criminal process is deterrence, the State argued.

The Defense argued in a brief filed June 10, 2018, that the State “boxed in the defendant” by its many amendments instead of charging all crimes all at once. “The Defendant’s affidavit indicates that the multiple amendments had more than just a slight impact on the Defendant’s choice to take a plea.” Voluntariness “is the cornerstone of an effective waiver of constitutional rights and accepting a plea.” 

The Defense argued against the State’s claim the defendant has  “Buyer’s remorse” in that “The Defendant in this cause has taken action well before he knew the full impact of his earlier choice and well before any consequences were visited upon him. He has maintained this was an accidental result between two very drunk people. He has taken that position from the very first statement after his arrest and has maintained it throughout the proceeding until his change of plea.”

But according to court docs, Defendant told a friend he "shot the person in the head" and that the person was "begging for his life."

After asking “multiple questions” of the defendant at an earlier hearing, and questioning Dr. Murphey, “The Court confirmed with Schifferns that the medication makes him think more clearly, rather than less, that it does not cloud his judgment, and that he was not suffering from any physical or mental condition that would cause him to not be able to understand what was happening at the hearing.” 

The second report of Dr. Murphy on his mental state concluded. “Mr. Schifferns does appear to be competent to plead guilty.”

Although the Court concluded that Schifferns “clearly felt conflicted” it found the issues raised by Schifferns did not meet the standard of good cause necessary to withdraw the plea. 

Schifferns was charged with killing James McGregor, 63, in February 2018 at Bear Track trailhead 12 miles south of Red Lodge. He is being held at the Gallatin County Detention Center on $1 million bond. 

Sentencing should occur the first Law and Motion Day in July.