The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, July 31, 2019 1:00 am

Man wants guilty plea for neglect withdrawn

Defense lawyer leaves case after secret recordings made

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne man who police say “had no intentions of going to court” after pleading guilty last week to felony neglect in the death of his then-girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter was in court Tuesday. 

There, Shane A. Patton – handcuffed, with two Allen County sheriff's deputies nearby – said he wants to take back his plea and asked a judge not to keep him in jail. 

“I've showed up to everything,” he said, referring to court dates. “I'm not going to leave.”

That's not what Patton, 32, reportedly said Friday after a hearing in Allen Superior Court in which he admitted neglecting Jocelyn “JoJo” Belcher and other children living at a home on East Butler Street last year. He had been free on bond, but that was revoked after a police detective said Patton told a woman he was “going to run” rather than appear in court so a judge could schedule a sentencing date. 

A warrant for his arrest was issued, and he was taken into custody when he arrived Tuesday morning at the Allen County courthouse. 

He will remain in jail at least until an Aug. 13 hearing, when Patton's bond and withdrawing the guilty plea likely will be discussed. 

JoJo was found dead, wrapped tight in a blanket, in the home Jan. 27, 2018. The Allen County coroner's office said the cause of death was neck compression, and court documents allege the girl had other injuries including fractures that had healed that suggested she was abused. 

A therapist testified in April the other children said in interviews that Patton hit them, placed his hand over their mouths and wrapped JoJo and at least one other child so tightly in blankets that they couldn't move. 

Defense attorney Ryan Gardner withdrew from the case Tuesday after county Interim Chief Public Defender Michelle Kraus told the judge Patton secretly recorded his lawyer. Kraus said the recordings were posted to social media. 

Gardner did not force his client to agree to plead guilty, she said. 

Patton admitted last week to keeping the children in a situation that threatened them. He signed a plea agreement Friday and initialed the document 12 times.

“Mr. Gardner was offering sound legal advice to Mr. Patton,” Kraus said. “Mr. Gardner has done nothing wrong.” 

Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull said a new public defender will be appointed, but Patton said he will consider hiring an attorney.

If he withdraws the plea, Patton will forfeit a deal with prosecutors in which he faces up to 16 years in prison in exchange for guilty pleas on two counts of felony neglect. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss a third, more serious neglect charge that carries a penalty of up to 40 years behind bars. 

Jurors would be asked to consider the more serious charge at trial. 

The girl's mother, Crystal Belcher, 30, also has pleaded guilty to felony neglect and faces three years in prison. She had agreed to testify against Patton, and she will be sentenced Friday.

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