GOSHEN — A South Bend teenager charged with murder in Elkhart could possibly raise a self-defense argument at trial.
A hearing was held in Elkhart County Circuit Court Thursday to provide updates in the case against Alphonso James III. The 14-year-old is accused of shooting and killing Jaren Minies as the two fought over a gun along South 10th Street in Elkhart in September 2018.
James then allegedly fled to Ithaca, New York, where he was later arrested and charged with gang assault stemming from a stabbing and beating that left the victim seriously injured.
After that case was adjudicated, James was extradited back to Indiana to face the murder case. Since he’s a minor, the process began in Juvenile Court until the magistrate there decided in August he should be moved to Circuit Court and charged as an adult.
His attorney indicated James may believe he acted in self-defense when Minies was shot. Peter Soldato, from the county’s public defender office, told the court the teen had indicated issues of self-defense during their recent discussions of the case.
Soldato said he hasn’t fully investigated those indications yet, but he plans to file a motion stating intentions to pursue a self-defense argument, at least to preserve the issue for the record. He noted he understands the standard scheduling deadline to file such motions has passed, but he still wants to raise the issue.
Judge Michael Christofeno said Soldato can file the intent, allowing for the prosecutor’s office to file a response, to see how the situation plays out.
Soldato also sought to push back the trial date, moving it from next month into next spring, as he continues working to build a defense for James. He pointed out James’ family still plans to hire a private attorney for the case. Should that happen, the extension would give a new lawyer more time to prepare.
He and Prosecutor Vicki Becker eventually agreed to reset the trial from Dec. 9 to May 18, 2020, after Christofeno offered the date as the later of two alternatives, with the other being April 6.
Becker said she can live with the May date, but resisted a lengthy delay, saying it becomes harder on the victim’s family to receive closure.
“I’m hesitant to continue kicking the can down the road,” Becker said.
With the agreement, Christofeno rescheduled James’ trial to begin May 18.
Several other hearings were held in Circuit Court Thursday. Among them, two defendants admitted to their roles in cocaine cases.
• Julio Aguilar-Reyes, 25, of Elkhart pleaded guilty to a Level 2 felony count of dealing cocaine in one of the cases against him.
Aguilar-Reyes admitted he planned to sell the drug when he was arrested at his home in Elkhart April 24 as part of a county Intelligence and Covert Enforcement Unit investigation. He told the court he couldn’t remember the exact amount of cocaine he had at the time.
Details in the probable cause affidavit in the case show investigators tested 88 grams of a substance for cocaine during a search of the house. Suspected methamphetamine and marijuana was also found during the investigation, the document shows.
Aguilar-Reyes faces a sentence with a prison term capped at 20 years with other terms at the court’s discretion as part of the plea agreement. Counts of dealing methamphetamine, dealing marijuana and illegal possession of firearms were dismissed. Three other misdemeanor cases charging him with driving without a license were also dismissed, and the prosecutor’s office would hold off on filing charges in three other cases.
Judge Christofeno accepted the plea and convicted Aguilar-Reyes. He then scheduled Dec. 12 as the sentencing date.
Aguilar-Reyes also acknowledged he’s a Mexican citizen. He could face deportation as a result of the conviction.
• Amy Fischer, 46, Goshen, pleaded guilty to a Level 5 felony charge of possession of cocaine.
Fischer admitted she had 5 to 10 grams of the drug when she was arrested by police in Elkhart July 19.
She initially faced a more serious count of dealing cocaine, but the charge was reduced as part of the plea agreement. The deal calls for a sentence of three years on home detention and three years of probation.
Judge Christofeno accepted the plea and convicted Fischer. He then scheduled Dec. 12 as the date to sentence her.
John McLachlan, 27, Elkhart, appeared in court for an initial hearing in a drug-dealing case.
McLachlan is charged with two Level 2 felony counts of dealing methamphetamine, a Level 3 felony count of possession of methamphetamine and a Level 6 felony count of resisting arrest in a case that was filed in January.
Judge Christofeno entered a not-guilty plea on McLachlan’s behalf. He scheduled April 6, 2020, for the start of the trial. McLachlan had a private attorney with him during the hearing.