Sunday, December 4, 2011
On the third day of his jury trial for murdering Westland teenager Carlee Morse, Justin Yoshikawa accepted a plea bargain that will send him to prison for 35 to 65 years.
Yoshikawa, who turned 20 in July, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder which gives him the possibility of parole. Had he been convicted as charged of first-degree murder, Yoshikawa would have faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison without chance of parole.
Before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Ulysses Boykin accepted the plea, Yoshikawa was asked about his role in the murder by his attorney George Chedraue and prosecutor Lisa Screen.
Responding to questions, Yoshikawa confirmed that he and co-defendant Nicholas Cottrell lured Morse, 16, from her family's Westland apartment late Aug. 19 or early Aug. 20, 2010.
Describing Morse as someone he dated briefly during the summer of 2010, Yoshikawa responded “Yes, sir” when asked if he hid in the back seat of a car before strangling front seat passenger Morse and later placing her body in trash bags.
The court testimony mirrors the statements given by Yoshikawa and Cottrell after their arrests in December 2010.
Yoshikawa's plea comes on the heels of Cottrell, who entered a plea bargain earlier this year with the condition of testifying against Yoshikawa, taking the stand and refusing to testify.
Cottrell, 23, had also been charged with first-degree murder but was sentenced to 25-50 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
Going against the advice of his defense attorney Solomon Radner, Cottrell refused to testify, telling Boykin that his plea had been the result of coercion by Westland police. Cottrell said he had lied when he had earlier testified the plea was coerced. Boykin is scheduled to hear arguments in Cottrell's efforts to withdraw his guilty plea on Dec. 12.
After it was clear that Cottrell would not testify, Boykin allowed the transcript of Cottrell's testimony from Yoshikawa's preliminary examination in Westland's 18th District Court to be read into the record. Screen and Chedraue read their parts of the transcript with a stand-in for Cottrell.
“We were about three-quarters done reading Nick's (Cottrell) testimony on Tuesday. Justin (Yoshikawa) knew the rest of it would be read,” said Westland Police Sgt. Dan Serrano, the officer in charge of the case. “Justin saw the looks on the faces of the jurors. He started to hear the ice cracking under his feet.”
Morse's mother Laurie and older sister Lauren were consulted before the plea agreement was accepted. Family and supporters of Yoshikawa were taken outside the courtroom by Chedraue before the plea was entered.
“The best outcome to have is that this little girl (Morse) be home — that this never happened,” said Chedraue, who refused to comment on whether there had been earlier discussions regarding a plea. “He (Yoshikawa) was looking at life with no parole. Now there is a chance that he will see daylight again.”
Yoshikawa, a former Westland John Glenn High School student, is scheduled to be sentenced by Boykin on Dec. 15.
Morse's body has not been located. Yoshikawa and Cottrell told police that they were smoking marijuana and driving around randomly before placing her body into a Dumpster outside a church.
“This is the first murder case in Westland where there was no body. We had no witnesses and no crime scene,” said Serrano. “These are things that you hold up (for convictions). We only had investigative reports.”