(AP) The president of Virginia State University’s student government association is asking a judge to set aside his hazing conviction, arguing that he only pleaded guilty because the prosecutor said he wouldn’t graduate if he refused.
Brandon Randleman, 22, and three others pleaded guilty April 8 to an August hazing incident involving a student. All are members of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
Randleman’s attorney, Joseph Morrissey, claims in court papers filed late last month that Randleman told Petersburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Cassandra Conover he was innocent and agreed to plead guilty only after the threat was made.
In a meeting shortly before the hearing, Conover told Randleman, “If you don’t sign this (plea agreement), you are not graduating,” Randleman alleged in the court filing, which asks that his conviction be tossed and that his case be set for trial.
Conover and the judge who accepted the pleas have recused themselves from the case. A special prosecutor from Chesterfield County has been appointed to handle Randleman’s case, now set for May 23.
All three defendants waived their rights to an attorney before the April hearing and agreed to plead guilty. In exchange, they received 30 days of probation, a few hours behind bars, and agreed to comply with any conditions imposed by the university and the prosecutor. The charges would be formally dismissed in May if all conditions were met.
Morrissey began representing Randleman after the plea was entered.
“The defendant was arrested, brought before a magistrate and entered a plea in approximately 70 hours!” Morrissey wrote in the motion.
Conover said she’s surprised by the allegations. She denies that she made any threats or pressured the students to plea.
“If they felt pressured, they should have said something,” Conover said.
Randleman’s stepfather, Milton L. Eley, supported his son’s version of events in a sworn affidavit and alleged that Conover had a conflict of interest in prosecuting him because Randleman had two classes under Conover, who teaches at VSU, and had worked as an intern in Conover’s office last spring.
The prosecutor said she doesn’t see any conflict of interest “because the school was willing to have the matter taken under advisement and dismissed, and not have it go any further.”
As student body president, Randleman also serves as the student representative on VSU’s board of visitors.
Eley, who was present at the meeting with the prosecutor, claims he was “absolutely shocked” at her behavior. He claims that outside court when he defended Randleman that Conover replied, “Brandon may not have done anything wrong, but he was in the vicinity.”
“We were very upset about the boorish manner in which she handled things, and we were very, very disturbed,” Eley wrote.
Conover said she’s puzzled by Eley’s statements. Randleman’s parents were “laughing and joking about how the matter was handled” after court, Conover said.
Also convicted were 22-year-old Leroy Amankrah, 23-year-old Christopher Barnes-Prevot and 28-year-old William Nicholson.