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Uncooperative Witnesses Push Prosecutors Into Plea Deals

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - An 18-year-old victim wouldn't cooperate in the prosecution of his alleged shooter so the accused pleaded guilty to lesser charges last week, which is a scenario that pushes prosecutors into plea deals they don't want to make.

Robert Norris, 19, of Cedar Rapids, was charged with attempted murder in the shooting of Andre Kearney of Cedar Rapids near the Glenbrook West Apartments June 21, 2012. According to a criminal complaint, Norris shot Kearney in the hip area at close range with a .25 caliber handgun after a verbal argument. Officers found four empty shell casings from the scene and recovered the gun from Norris' apartment.

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said Kearney wouldn't cooperate with the investigation and then couldn't be located to take depositions in the case. The county attorney's investigator and police searched for Kearney leading up to the trial, which was set for next week, but couldn't find him. Kearney then showed up at Maybanks office after the plea deal was done.

"I told him it didn't work like that.... it was too late," Maybanks said. "I explained that we needed his cooperation to get a conviction."

Maybanks said other witnesses in the case also couldn't be located, so he couldn't prove Norris was the shooter. Norris pleaded guilty to assault with intent to inflict serious injury and carrying weapons, both misdemeanors.

"There were witnesses who said he (Norris) had a gun so we could prove that," Maybanks said. "It's not great but it's better than no conviction."

Norris was sentenced last Thursday to two years in jail on each charge but those were suspended and he received four years probation.

Maybanks said unfortunately, in cases like this witnesses and victims aren't always cooperative and it limits the state from pursuing harsher or higher penalty charges like attempted murder.

On Monday, Assistant Linn County Attorney Jason Burns had a similar incident with a first-degree kidnapping case. He said the state was "forced" into offering William Roby, 51, of Cedar Rapids, a plea agreement to lesser charges for holding a 62-year-old woman for nearly 10 hours and sexually assaulting her in 2011. Roby's trial started Monday and the plea was offered Tuesday before the second day of jury selection got underway.

Burns said he couldn't explain what happened, only that there were "extenuating circumstances." He said he could explain more after Roby's sentencing set Feb. 15. Roby pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual abuse and third-degree kidnapping. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

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