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11:03 PM Tue, Nov. 20th

Gordon escapes 3rd trial, pleads to two felonies

PRESCOTT – After two mistrials stemming from child molestation charges, 38-year-old John Michael Gordon of Prescott Valley has chosen a plea agreement instead of another trial.

During a pretrial conference on Tuesday, Yavapai County Superior Court Judge William Kiger dismissed all counts of dangerous crimes against children that Gordon was facing, after he pleaded no contest to two Class 6 felonies of aggravated assault.

He faces a maximum prison sentence of two years. If Kiger sentences Gordon to prison, the defendant is eligible to earn a release credit day for every six days he serves. Gordon has been in custody since his arrest a year ago.

Probation is available for a term not to exceed three years. The maximum fine that the judge can impose for each felony is $150,000 plus 77 percent in surcharges.

Based on the plea agreement, Kiger can also order Gordon to pay restitution to the victims, Yavapai County and/or Victims Compensation in an amount that doesn't exceed $10,000.

In May 2002, the grand jury indicted Gordon on charges including two counts of molestation of a child, sexual assault, continuous sexual abuse, aggravated assault and sexual abuse.

According to the court file, the charges stem from a police investigation involving two girls who were the alleged molestation victims. The victims' mother called police to report that her boyfriend had been fondling her oldest daughter for about two years.

In an interview with Prescott Valley Det. Richard Marley, the older girl reportedly said that the last time the suspect molested her was the night before her mother made the call.

The younger minor reportedly told the detective that Gordon allegedly molested her on multiple occasions. Both victims were 11 or younger when the alleged incidents occurred.

In March and April, Kiger had to declare two mistrials in this case after two separate juries failed to reach a verdict. The second jury deliberated only a half a day before informing the court that they were at an impasse on the counts.

The first jury deliberated for two-plus days, but the outcome was the same.

At that time a juror said, "there was so much that left us in doubt."

"I think everybody thought something happened, but we couldn't decide what beyond a reasonable doubt. It was a difficult case."

The younger victim testified in both trials. The jury, however, watched the testimony of her older sister on a videotape.

After finding factual basis, Kiger accepted the plea. He also told the defendant that although he pleaded no contest to two counts of aggravated assault, it still could be interpreted as a guilty plea.

Referring to the sentence in the plea agreement Kiger referred to the case as "the effective administration of justice."

Gordon's sentencing will be at 2:30 p.m. on June 16.

In other court news:

Unable to locate two witnesses in Earl Ray Lappe's first-degree murder case, Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Ethan Wolfinger asked the judge Tuesday to issue warrants in order to secure them as material witnesses.

He told the judge that a Prescott Police detective attempted to locate two sisters, Minerva and Leora Washington, at a Phoenix address, but that he was unsuccessful.

"We do not know where they are," he said.

Lappe's attorney, Kenneth Ray, didn't object to the request and asked the judge to set the bond at $100,000.

Ray also said that both parties attempted twice to interview witness Anthony Gabildon, but they were unable to.

Rather than issuing a warrant for him as well, Wolfinger opted to give Gabildon another opportunity to respond to their requests because "we have not talked to him directly."

Kiger issued a similar court order for the Washington sisters as he did previously for Marc Tapija, another material witness in the case.

"The bail should be set at $100,000 as suggested by Mr. Ray," Kiger said.

Police arrested Lappe, 26, in October 2001 in connection with the shooting death of Anthony Smith.

Police found Smith's body in his Prescott home in the early morning hours of Sept. 7 after receiving an anonymous telephone call. The caller asked officers to check on Smith's welfare. He had suffered a fatal wound to the head from a .20-gauge shotgun.

According to the court file, Lappe reportedly told a number of people about the shooting. Police reportedly recovered the defendant's clothes with blood on them, as well as the shotgun.

Tapija testified during the preliminary hearing for Lappe that the defendant told him that he killed Smith. Tapija reportedly told police that he and another witness were present when Lappe allegedly changed his blood-stained clothes.

On Tuesday, Kiger also asked both parties whether they have considered a non-trial resolution in this case.

He said since the state is not seeking the death penalty in this case, if convicted of first-degree premeditated murder Lappe faces life in prison. It will be up to him to decide whether he will be eligible for parole after 25 years, Kiger told Lappe.

Ray told the judge that the state hasn't made any real offers to this date. Wolfinger said that he will discuss the matter with his boss, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.

Kiger scheduled another pretrial conference at 11 a.m. on June 20. The 11-day trial starts five days later, on June 25.