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Article updated: 12/18/2012 6:56 PM

Bad legal advice gives Waukegan man shorter prison term

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Lake County prosectors say a Waukegan man who was incarcerated for murder nearly a decade ago received bad legal advice from his now-deceased attorney, and they have agreed to a new plea deal.

Freddie Ramirez, 31, who says he was misled into pleading guilty in 2002 to murdering 24-year-old Victor Hugo Chavez, was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated battery with a firearm Tuesday in front of Lake County Judge Victoria Rossetti.

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Ramirez was sentenced Tuesday to 17 years behind bars, instead of the 34 years he received after pleading guilty to murder.

Because of time served, Ramirez will be out of jail within five-and-a-half years, said Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Scheller, chief of the office's Criminal Division.

"We believe there was some merit to his allegations that he was given bad advice by his previous attorney," Scheller said. "The new state's attorney wants to remedy these potential miscarriages of justice."

Scheller said Ramirez was accused of firing a handgun and killing Chavez in November 2000, but was not charged until after he was arrested on a separate crime in 2001.

During the 2001 arrest, he told Waukegan Police he wanted to speak to an attorney while being questioned, but officers continued to question him in violation of his rights, Scheller said.

Ramirez later admitted to murdering Chavez during a secret tape recording by Ramirez's mother, authorities said. Scheller said the woman wore a recording device given to her by police during a prison visit with Ramirez while he was serving a separate sentence.

Ramirez's mother also told him she was at the jail working with his defense attorney, which could have led to the recording being inadmissible in court, Scheller said.

The now-deceased former defense attorney convinced Ramirez the recording would be allowed in court and pushed him to accept a plea agreement, Scheller said.

Scheller said Ramirez has obtained a college degree while in prison, and has been a good prisoner.

"He was the one who came forward, recognized that he was given bad advice, and pushed for a new trial," Scheller said. "He will be out when he is still in his 30s and, hopefully, will lead a productive life."

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