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Supreme Court reinstates woman's guilty plea in husband's slaying

St. Martin Parish Courthouse
Posted at 11:31 AM, May 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 12:31:15-04

A former St. Martin Parish Sheriff's deputy who pleaded guilty in the shooting death of her husband will be sentenced after the state Supreme Court decided she can't withdraw her plea.

Chrystal Alexander, who according to court records now goes by Clues-Alexander, was indicted on a charge of second-degree murder in 2014. Her husband, Kendall Alexander, 34, was shot to death at their home in December 2013.

In 2018, she pleaded guilty to manslaughter. And during her plea hearing, the court informed her that she was entitled to a trial by jury. One of the things the court is required to do when someone is entering a guilty plea is to make sure they understand what rights and options they are giving up.

Prior to entering that guilty plea, Clues-Alexander's attorney twice filed motions asking the court to require a unanimous verdict during a trial. Both times that motion was denied. After she entered the guilty plea, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a Louisiana case that unanimous jury verdicts are required for certain cases.

Alexander's attorney then filed motions asking to withdraw her guilty plea, arguing that she accepted a plea deal for a lesser charge because the court would not require a unanimous verdict. The district court rejected that argument and refused her request to withdraw her guilty plea. Clues-Alexander appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, which agreed with her argument, and ruled that she must be allowed to withdraw it.

But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying that she wasn't ignorant of the law as it stood when she pleaded guilty.

The "novel principle that unawareness of a future legal development renders a guilty plea constitutionally invalid" is not supported by case law, the court wrote; indeed, there are subsequent legal developments all the time, and those "do not invalidate a defendant’s otherwise intelligent, knowing, and voluntary guilty plea."

The state Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit decision, and sent Clues-Alexander's case back to court for her sentencing.

Two justices, however, did dissent. Associate Justice Piper D. Griffin wrote that Clues-Alexander had "filed a notice of intent to assert a defense of justifiable homicide. The record is replete with numerous instances of domestic violence by Mr. Alexander against Ms. Clues, including immediately prior to the shooting. The open ended plea was of no benefit to Ms. Clues as she may still be given the maximum sentence. Further, the State concedes it would not be prejudiced by withdrawal of the guilty plea."