His signature locks shorn and sporting a mustache, Michael L. Fodness. 45, sat next to his attorney, Thomas A. Starr of Boyd, late Friday morning listening intently to the details of a plea agreement.
Arrested in October 2010, the former Colfax man faced multiple felony sexual assault and child enticement charges involving teenage girls as well as intimidation of a witness and bail jumping. Those charges will be dismissed, but will be read into the court record for the purposes of sentencing, said Assistant District Attorney Andrew Maki.
Some of the alleged crimes dated back to 1999.
Instead of facing a jury in a six-day trial in Ladysmith in a little over a week, Fodness pleaded guilty to a single count of child enticement with the intent to give or sell drugs to a child under the age of 18.
The maximum penalty for the Class D felony is a fine of $100,000 and/or 25 years in prison. Under the agreement, a 15-year prison sentence was recommended with seven years of initial confinement followed by eight years of probation. Fodness will receive credit for time already served in the Dunn County Jail.
A pre-sentence investigation was ordered by Dunn County Judge Bill Stewart, Jr., and a sentencing hearing has been set for Nov. 8.
Multiple lawyers, trial dates
Starr is the fifth public defender to represent Fodness, who fired his first attorney. A second withdrew, citing a conflict of interest, while a third was excused after learning he was representing one of Fodness’ alleged victims in another case and another county. Shirlene Perrin of Hudson was appointed in May 2011.
Fodness original trial was set for the week of Feb. 6, 2012. But citing a need for more time to prepare, both Perrin and Maki requested and were granted a postponement until Aug. 27, 2012. That trial, however, was cancelled just a few days for it was set begin when Fodness underwent an emergency appendectomy.
Two days after a February 2013 trial was underway, Judge Stewart declared a mistrial after a DVD interview of one of the alleged victims — viewed by the jury — was found to include information about Fodness’ prior criminal record. A fourth trial date was set for May 13.
On April 16, Perrin filed a motion to be released as Fodness attorney. She explained that her daughter has a medical condition that had gotten progressively worse over the previous six months. Perrin was expecting a call anytime for her child to be enrolled in a three-week treatment program for which she needed to be present.
At the time, Perrin told Judge Stewart that she felt the case had merit and felt it should be tried. When Starr was appointed, a fifth trial — now cancelled — was scheduled to begin on Sept. 16.