JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A man who pleaded guilty to murder changed his mind, but it wasn't his lawyer who wrote the judge asking for the plea to be withdrawn.
Douglas Cercy, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the 2017 death of an 86-year-old Navy veteran, Melvin Clark, wants to withdraw that plea.
He signed a letter saying he didn't know he'd be giving up his right to an appeal of the sentence. But it appears another inmate wrote the letter for him -- Russell Tillis, who's awaiting trial on a murder himself in a case that's he's helped to drag on for three years.
Tillis has been writing his own motions for years. Now it appears he's writing Cercy's.
The major giveaway that points Tillis as the author? Attorney Gene Nichols said it comes down to the handwriting.
"The Ys are the same, and the Gs are very similar," Nichols said.
The unique character of the letters tells Nichols the same person who wrote Tillis' motions wrote a motion for Cercy to get his guilty plea withdrawn.
Nichols feels confident it's Tillis writing both and not an outside party.
"It would shocking to think the same person was writing Tillis' motions three, four, five years ago who's currently writing Cercy's motions," Nichols said.
If Cercy does get to withdraw his plea, that means the death penalty would be back on the table.
"Then he takes the same path that Tillis has been taking this entire time by disrupting the system, firing lawyers, making objections on his own, filing his own motions, and we could be seeing the same start of Cercy wanting to take the same path that Tillis has already taken," Nichols said.
That, by the way, is not illegal.
"It's not illegal for Tillis just to write it out for him in order for him to subsequently sign it," Nichols said.
According to Nichols, there's a good chance the courts will deny Cercy's request because he entered into his plea knowingly and voluntarily and there is court paperwork to back that up.
Nichols said this subsequently would not allow him to play the game that Tillis has been playing for years.
There's a sentencing hearing for Cercy on July 23. A letter to the judge asks that his plea withdrawal request be heard at that time. Comparing handwriting, it looks like Tillis also wrote that letter.
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