Defendant Blames COVID for Not Completing Plea Deal Work – Judge Disagrees, Offers Last Chance

By Mella Bettag

FRESNO – At his sentencing hearing this past Monday, Dontay Henderson provided a series of excuses for why he hadn’t completed his probation guidelines, and promised that he needed just a little more time.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge William Terrence wasn’t convinced.

On May 22 of 2019, Henderson was charged with a single count of battery. At his arraignment, he entered a no-contest plea immediately. He was first sentenced on August 21, where he made a deal with the district attorney. If he completed 12 weeks of anger management and 20 hours of community service, the DA’s office would dismiss the case.

Henderson’s second sentence hearing happened in February—he was supposed to show that he was actually completing his classes and community service. Henderson did not have any proof, so he had to return to court four months later, on July 27. Once again, the court asked him to bring proof of compliance.

Instead, Public Defender Stephanie Winemiller asked for another continuance—Henderson still had not completed any of his sentence.

Winemiller revealed that her client had many barriers that made it difficult for him to begin the terms of his sentence. She said he had recently become employed and was in college at the same time, which limited his free time for community service and classes. And he was still struggling financially after a bout of unemployment, which meant he wasn’t able to pay the fees for the anger management course.

Along with his personal barriers, the COVID-19 pandemic had created additional roadblocks. Because of the health crisis, many organizations stop accepting volunteers, meaning Henderson had fewer options for his community service. Additionally, all the libraries had closed, which limited his online access to complete the online anger management courses.

Deputy District Attorney Brian Exline agreed to a continuance.

But, Judge Terrence was more hesitant, explaining, “My concern is that from August of 2019 to today, you have essentially done nothing to address the terms of this case.”

Terrence also noted that he didn’t believe COVID-19 played a role in Henderson’s non-compliance, charging that “February 21 was before this COVID emergency started changing everyone’s day-to-day living,… so, I don’t find that the COVID-19 health emergency had anything to do with your non-compliance in this case.”

Still, both the prosecution and defense wanted a more time to be given to Henderson. Reluctantly, Judge Terrence granted it, allowing Henderson to bring in proof of completion on December 17, his final sentencing hearing.

“I can assure you, Mr. Henderson, that this is going to be our only continuance here, the judge said.

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About The Author

Tia is a graduate of UCDMC and long time resident of Davis who raised her two now adult children here. She is a local obstetrician gynecologist with special interests in preventive medicine and public health and safety. All articles and posts written by Tia are reflective only of her own opinions and are in no way a reflection of the opinions of her partners or her employer.

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