GREENFIELD — Prosecutors have asked a judge to throw out a plea agreement they offered a man accused of rape, saying the victim accused the deputy prosecutor who penned the deal of mishandling the case.
Prosecutor Brent Eaton said he petitioned the court to revoke his own office’s plea deal after the victim told him deputy prosecutor Georgeanna Teipen ignored her concerns about an agreement she felt was inappropriately lenient.
The agreement dropped three rape charges against James Owens, 38, of Indianapolis, and called for a sentence of 10 years for the defendant who had faced at least 40, Eaton said.
Teipen, an attorney hired last year to prosecute crimes against women and children, confirmed she planned to resign effective Sept. 30 but said her decision to step down was unrelated to the plea agreement in question.
In an email to the Daily Reporter, she said, “I came here to do a specialized job, to work on making a difference and changes that I was told were necessary. I have tried my best to do my job with that focus. But as happens in life, things change and circumstances end up not being as anticipated.”
“I am very disappointed that this job did not work out as I hoped it would, so I have made the decision to move on,” she continued.
Teipen declined to discuss the case further.
Teipen filed a plea agreement in the case with the court Aug. 19 after telling Eaton and chief deputy prosecutor Marie Castetter the victim did not support its terms.
Eaton said he initially gave Teipen permission to move forward with the agreement but, after hearing personally from the victim, decided Teipen should have listened to her concerns.
This week — just 10 days before Owens was scheduled to be sentenced — Castetter filed a motion to withdraw the agreement, a move Eaton admits he and Castetter weren’t sure initially was legally permissible, as the defendant had already pleaded guilty.
Hancock Circuit Court Judge Richard Culver has the final say in what happens to Owens’ case. A hearing on the motion to withdraw the agreement has been scheduled for Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in Hancock Circuit Court.
Teipen will not be involved with the case going forward, Eaton said.
Prosecutors have no legal obligation to secure a victim’s approval on the terms of a plea agreement before the document is filed, and there is no policy within the local prosecutor’s office prohibiting deputy prosecutors from filing an agreement without a victim’s OK, Eaton said.
But having a victim’s approval can factor into whether a judge accepts an agreement, Eaton said. Prosecutors typically include a note at the end of proposed agreements saying whether the victim has been informed of the terms; judges also sometimes address the victim in court during sentencing to ask their opinion, said Eaton, calling the practice an ethical obligation.
Eaton said he expects his staff to work with victims to make sure they are comfortable with all parts of the court process.
“Those expectations don’t appear to have been met,” Eaton said. “It’s an important case. If I were happy about where things were, then we won’t be here. We want to work with the victim.”
Eaton said Teipen “did the honorable thing” by stepping down while her performance on the Owens case was under review.
Owens was arrested in January after a woman came to Hancock Regional Hospital’s emergency room in the middle of the night with signs of sexual trauma as well as bite wounds and a torn and bleeding ear lobe, police said.
The woman told investigators she was with Owens, whom she was dating, earlier that evening at her Greenfield home.
Owens became angry after he found her profile on an online dating site; he called her his slave, punched her in the face and forced her to have sex with him, she told police. Owens countered the act was consensual, according to court records.
Owens was arrested and charged with three Level 1 felony counts of rape and one Level 6 felony count of battery resulting in bodily injury.
Level 1 felonies carry a penalty of 20 to 40 years; the sentencing range for a Level 6 felony is six months to 2½ years.
After the plea agreement was filed in August, Owens pleaded guilty in open court to a lesser charge of criminal confinement, a Level 3 felony, Eaton said.
About a week later, the victim asked to meet with Eaton, he said. The woman requested Teipen not be present.
The woman told prosecutors she did not agree with the terms laid out in the plea deal and said she made those concerns clear to Teipen, Eaton said.
Terrance Kinnard of Indianapolis, Owens’ defense attorney, declined to comment on the pending proceedings.