William Thornton, the Sumter County teenager who received a 30-year prison sentence for two counts of vehicular homicide, wants to take back his no-contest plea.
Circuit Judge Ric Howard told him "you don't get do-overs in the law." And last week, the 5th District Court of Appeal agreed.
A unanimous ruling issued Friday by a three-judge panel said Howard "did not abuse his discretion" when he denied Thornton's request to withdraw his plea.
Thornton, who was 17 at the time of the wreck, pleaded no contest in 2005, thinking the judge would sentence him to juvenile detention - a punishment suggested by state officials and his attorney, former Assistant Public Defender Eric Evilsizer.
But Howard gave him the maximum sentence, which sparked an outcry from the elected public defender as well as community and family members, who asked Howard to step aside from the case and claimed that the white judge was prejudiced against the black defendant.
In 2006, Thornton appealed his plea, saying he was misled by his attorney.
But Howard determined that Thornton entered his plea voluntarily and knowingly. The appeal court agreed, saying the decision was "supported by competent evidence."
However, the appeal court did not make a judgment on the sentence and left open the possibility that Thornton can pursue a claim of ineffective counsel.
The crash happened just before midnight Dec. 28, 2004.
Thornton was speeding home to Sumter County after visiting his girlfriend in Citrus. He skidded through a stop sign and onto State Road 44 in Lecanto.
His vehicle collided with a sport utility vehicle carrying Brandon Mushlit, 25, and his girlfriend, Sara Jo Williams, 23, both of whom were killed.
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.