A week after a Jackson County judge withdrew her guilty pleas in a child abuse case that shocked Kansas City in 2012, Jacole Prince was back in the same courtroom Tuesday.
Although the appearance was listed on the docket as a plea hearing and Circuit Judge John Torrence said when court began that he understood another negotiation was in the works, Prince backed away from agreeing to anything. She spoke so softly to Torrence that she couldn’t be heard by spectators in the courtroom.
All that could be heard was Torrence’s response: “If you’re asking me to appoint you to another lawyer, I’m not going to.”
Torrence then assigned Prince’s case to the presiding judge, who will reassign it.
As a shackled Prince left the courtroom and was led back to jail, she was asked whether she had anything to say. Prince mumbled an unintelligible response.
Her public defender, Curtis Winegarner, declined to comment.
Prince has been behind bars since June 22, 2012, the day a state social worker and police officer found LP, Prince’s emaciated 10-year-old daughter weighing 32 pounds, locked in a closet amid her waste.
Initially, Torrence was to sentence Prince on April 25 on felony counts of first-degree assault, child abuse and child endangerment. Prince, 30, could have faced life in prison for the assault charge alone. But in the deal entered Jan. 7, prosecutors agreed to cap the prison time at 20 years.
But all that changed after Prince took to writing letters.
In mid-January, she wrote the court a postcard and The Star a 42-page letter. In both she said she hadn’t wanted to plead guilty that day but had felt pressured.
“Among other claims, defendant Prince wrote that she ‘didn’t except (sic) the plea because I did not want to take the plea,’ ” Torrence wrote in his order last week after The Star published a story about Prince’s letter. “The note also states that ‘Mr. Curtis Winegarner had threaten me to except (sic) that plea.’ ”
The judge said he determined that the postcard to the court “should be treated as a request to withdraw” her guilty pleas. On the assault and abuse charges, Prince had submitted Alford pleas, meaning she conceded that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her. She pleaded guilty to endangering.
Torrence issued the order to withdraw the pleas last week.
“This case shall be placed back on the trial docket for a jury trial,” he wrote.
The letter to The Star last month was the first time Prince had commented to anyone other than her attorneys, close family and friends on the charges she faced, her relationship with the oldest of her three daughters or the life the family led inside an apartment at Theron B. Watkins Homes.