Ky. Supreme Court throws out Louisville murder conviction - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Ky. Supreme Court throws out Louisville murder conviction

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky Supreme Court has thrown out the murder conviction of a Louisville man who pleaded guilty to killing his wife in July 2013, ruling a judge’s error created a "manifest injustice."

Steven Zapata pleaded guilty in Jefferson Circuit Court in 2015 to the murder of his wife, Tondelia Zapata, and agreed to a prison sentence of 24 years. He entered an Alford plea, meaning he maintained his innocence but admitted prosecutors had enough evidence to get a conviction. 

But before he was sentenced, Zapata – who was acting in part as his own lawyer along with a defense attorney as a co-counsel - asked Circuit Court Judge Mitch Perry to withdraw that plea, in part claiming he had received "ineffective assistance of counsel."

Zapata claimed his defense attorney had told him he could withdraw his guilty plea at any time before sentencing. He also alleged he wasn’t given proper representation for a hearing on his motion to withdraw his plea.

The attorney who had served as co-counsel with Zapata during his plea agreement argued she had a conflict in representing him in the ineffective assistance argument. Zapata represented himself in the hearing and Perry denied his request to withdraw his plea.

"I am certain that you knew what you were doing on that date and time. I will not allow you to withdraw that plea," Perry said during a Dec. 2015 hearing.

The high court last week ruled that Zapata’s defense attorney did have a conflict and Perry should have ordered hearings in which the co-counsel’s testimony was taken.

The ruling vacates the prison sentence and "rewind(s) this matter" to after Zapata has pleaded guilty but before his sentencing.

Prosecutors say Zapata strangled his wife, left town in her car, and was captured about a day later in Tennessee. Tondelia's brother is the one who found her in her Pleasure Ridge Park apartment, dead.

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