GOSHEN — The co-defendant in the murders of two convenience store workers in Elkhart was unsuccessful Thursday in withdrawing his guilty plea.
Richard Gross, 22, of Elkhart, pleaded guilty in Elkhart Circuit Court Dec. 9 just as his trial was to start. He is accused of taking part in an armed robbery Sept. 5 at Saleh’s Market, 401 Middlebury St. Jagtar Bhatti, 55 and Pawan Singh, 20, the owner and employee at the store, were murdered during that robbery. Co-defendant Kevin Moore, 29, of Elkhart, has entered a plea of guilty but mentally ill. Moore admitted he shot and killed Bhatti and Singh. Gross is charged with felony murder, which in Indiana means he participated in a crime where someone was killed.
“I feel like I was pressured into doing it,” Gross told Judge Terry Shewmaker of why he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea. “They were telling my family I had no chance at trial. I am not guilty of the crime.”
The “they” Gross referred to was his public defenders, Jeffrey Majerek and Matthew Johnson.
Judge Shewmaker didn’t buy the argument. He read transcripts of the plea acceptance in which he repeatedly asked Gross if he was entering the plea of guilty and if he did participate in the robbery and knew Moore was carrying a gun.
“I went over this in great detail with you,” Shewmaker said. “I did in fact ask you several times if you committed the crime. Do you remember that.”
“No,” Moore said.
Moore said that in a hearing in December he told Superior Court 3 Judge George Biddlecome he did not want Majerek and Johnson to represent him anymore. Biddlecome filled in for Shewmaker in that hearing.
Assistant Prosecutor David Francisco told Shewmaker, “Mr Gross made it crystal clear on Dec. 9 that he was satisfied in his representation.”