A judge Wednesday shot down a move by Gareng Deng to withdraw his guilty plea and 35-year prison sentence for killing a substance abuse counselor on Oct. 31, 2005.
Deng, who is 20 now, was 17 when he pleaded guilty to murdering 47-year-old Marilyn Bethell of Aurora. He now argues he was scared and confused when he pleaded guilty in May 2009.
Deng, a Sudanese immigrant who was 14 at the time of Bethell's murder, also argued that he had inadequate legal representation and didn't know he'd have to serve 100 percent of the sentence.
Kane County Associate Judge Allen Anderson, who accepted the guilty plea, said Deng's argument fell short of showing the "manifest injustice" required to withdraw a guilty plea.
"The defendant knew what he was doing on May 8, 2009, and the consequences of pleading guilty," Anderson said.
Anderson noted that as a juvenile, Deng had numerous arrests for burglary and theft and had "more than an occasional familiarity" of how the courts worked.
Anderson also noted that when Deng testified last week, he could not specify what question he intended to ask the court and when he supposedly tried to raise his hand. Court transcripts also show Deng was told at least twice he'd serve 100 percent of the sentence and not half. it's common for inmates to earn day-for-day credit for good behavior in the case of nonviolent crimes.
"He knew any choice to plead guilty was his choice and his choice alone," Anderson said. "Nothing supports the argument advanced by the defendant that he was somehow intimidated."
Assistant Public Defender Tom McCulloch, who argued Deng's case to withdraw his plea, said Deng would appeal Wednesday's ruling.
Friends and relatives of Bethell, a Hoffman Estates substance abuse counselor who was missing for two months before her body was discovered in a field, said they were relieved the judge didn't grant the request from Deng, a former Aurora resident and Waubonsie High School student.
"I remember when the judge spent a good half-hour or better (explaining the guilty plea)," said Bethell's sister, Pauline O'Neill. "(Anderson) really spent a lot of time, and now I understand why."
Added friend Deborah Eastman: "We're just glad, very glad. Very relieved."