GREENFIELD — Charges of armed robbery and battery with a deadly weapon have been dropped against three Marion County men arrested in the stabbing of a third man at a local car wash.
Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton, who took office Jan. 1, said he had no choice but to offer two of the men who were headed to trial a last-minute plea agreement after learning his predecessor’s office failed to provide legally required evidence in the case to the defendants’ lawyers.
Michael Griffin, the previous prosecutor, denies having done anything improper.
Citing the technicality, Eaton offered Lonnie Morton and Terry Henton, both 30, of Indianapolis, a plea agreement allowing them to plead guilty to felony theft. The remaining charges against them were dismissed, and they were ordered to spend three years on probation, court records show.
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A third defendant, Aaron Conner, who cooperated with police and was expected to testify against Henton and Morton, also was offered a plea agreement.
Conner, 30, of Indianapolis, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and will serve 180 days in jail.
Because the lawyers were not given access to all the evidence being used against their clients, including a videotaped statement from the victim, he could not proceed with the original charges, Eaton said.
“The defense has the right to defend their client,” he said. “It was a massive problem.”
The cases were filed in 2013 after a Greenfield man told police he was robbed and then stabbed during an altercation with three men who offered him a ride home from Walmart in Greenfield.
The man identified Morton, Henton and Conner from police photos, saying they were the men who tried to rob him in the parking lot of the Spray Zone Car Wash in the 1700 block of North State Street on Aug. 28, 2013.
The victim had been stabbed in the upper chest, but the wound was not life-threatening. He prompted 911 calls when he sprinted across a parking lot, covered in blood, after the scuffle.
One of the defendants, Morton, admitted to police he was in the vehicle when the man was stabbed but said he and the others acted in self-defense when the man pulled a gun on them.
Morton said they weren’t offering the man a ride home; the meeting was a pre-arranged drug deal to sell the man heroin.
Morton said the group pulled their pickup truck into a wash bay in order to avoid being seen while completing the drug deal, court records state. Morton told police the man pulled a gun and demanded the drugs, and a struggle ensued.
Police zeroed in on the suspects after looking at surveillance footage of the pickup truck leaving Walmart and tracing the license plate number to Henton.
Morton could not describe the weapon he said Taylor had, nor could he tell police where to find it. In the struggle with Taylor, the weapon was dropped in the pickup, he said. The men threw it out the window somewhere along Interstate 70 upon fleeing the area and driving toward Indianapolis, court documents state.
Eaton expressed disappointment in the case’s conclusion.
Griffin said his office provided the evidence required to the defense a month after the cases were filed. He cited a flurry of recent activity on the case on the part of the prosecutor’s office, noting the plea deal was an eleventh-hour agreement filed just days before the case would have gone to trial.
“What does that tell you?” Griffin said. “It looks like pulling all-nighters in college, just before a paper is due, when he could have been working all along. I feel bad for the victim.”