Judge: alleged plea deal offer to accused rapist "ambiguous"

A Gwinnett judge has cleared the way for an accused rapist to go to trial, ruling jail investigators did not promise a light prison sentence for his help in another case.

Howard Lee claimed jailhouse recordings proved he was offered a deal to serve only a couple of years.

He scratched their back, so he says Gwinnett jail investigators promised they'd scratch his.

"He said he could get the rape charge dropped and it'd be like I was locked up for a misdemeanor and he said I could get a year," Lee testified in a motion hearing about his conversation with a jail investigator.

Lee faces charges of rape, aggravated assault and false imprisonment involving a woman he allegedly lured to a Norcross hotel with the promise of helping her modeling career.

Rape carries a mandatory 20-year prison sentence in Georgia.

But Lee testified he worked hard as a jailhouse snitch for investigators, even helping catch a fellow inmate who was trying to hire a hit man to kill a witness.

After that, investigator Antoine Riggins talked to Lee on a recorded phone line about what the deal might look like.

Lee: Are they talking about something good or what?

Riggins: Yeah, it's a lot better than what you had on the table.

Deputy Riggins says someone would meet Lee the next day to talk specifics about the deal… but he'd have to give up thoughts of only serving one year.

Riggins: It's closer to the-you giving up the one, but it's closer to that two. But I'm going to let him talk to you in the morning about it. All right?

Lee: So it's looking like a year or something?

Riggins: It's more than a year.

Lee: Like how many?

Riggins: Huh?

Lee: How many?

Riggins: It's still going to be all based on what you continue to do.

On the stand, investigator Riggins explained to prosecutors that phone comment -- "giving up the one but it's closer to that two" referred to two cases Lee was working for the jail... case number one and case number two... not the number of years he was promising Lee.

"Did the defendant ask you if he could get you a year to serve?" asked the prosecutor about an earlier meeting.

"No," said Riggins.

"Did the defendant ask you if you could get him two years to serve?"


"Did you make any promises to him at this meeting?"

"No I did not."

Judge Ronnie Batchelor agreed, saying any offer was "ambiguous" and regardless, only the DA could make such a deal. He ruled against Lee.

Even though the judge's ruling now clears the way for Howard Lee to be tried in that Norcross rape case, prosecutors asked for a continuance because they understand he could be charged in another rape case... this time in North Carolina.

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