A 23-year-old Garden City man convicted of voluntary manslaughter in December has walked back his plea of no contest to the charge and intends to go to trial with a new defense attorney.
Alberto Tello, 23, 2914 Fleming St., Apt. 615, appeared Monday morning in the Ortiz courtroom at the Finney County Law Enforcement Center for what had been scheduled in December as his sentencing. In what was instead a case management hearing, Tello appeared alongside his new defense counsel, Jas P. Dhillon of Garden City, after severing his client relationship with Chief Public Defender Ron Evans amid accusations of intentionally underperforming, giving misleading information and violating attorney-client privilege.
Evans approved Tello’s plea agreement on his behalf in the days leading up to his December pretrial, when a conviction was handed down. Tello has since entered several motions to reverse that conviction and move forward in his court proceedings without Evans.
For a charge of voluntary manslaughter, Tello stood to be sentenced to somewhere between 55 to 247 months in prison, depending on his criminal history.
Through the filings, Tello contended that he is immune to criminal prosecution because he was acting in self-defense when he fatally stabbed 23-year-old Carlos Romero on July 2 in front of Romero’s home. Tello also submitted a motion to withdraw from his plea agreement, as well as a motion to find ineffective assistance from counsel predicating that Evans misled him and didn’t represent him to the best of his abilities.
In the motion to withdraw his plea agreement, Tello noted that Evans told him he would “probably be found guilty of some form of manslaughter.” Tello said he thought he was pleading no contest to acceptance of a reduced charge, not a reduced charge at the cost of conviction, when he accepted the plea agreement in December.
“I did not know I would be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter without a jury trial,” Tello wrote in his motion.
He went on to say that he “strongly” believes he will not be convicted of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter at jury trial, and that he has “quite a bit of evidence” to prove that he was acting in self-defense, “so taking a plea agreement and not going in front of a jury was not what I wanted.”
In his motion to find ineffective assistance from counsel, Tello wrote that Evans misled him into accepting an amended charge that was actually a plea agreement, after Tello told him he wouldn’t accept a guilty plea of any kind.
Tello went on to say that Evans had spoken of “beating this at trial as if it were a real possibility” before urging him to accept a plea agreement.
“I feel he has given up,” Tello wrote. “Mr. Evans did not file one motion on my behalf when my motions were due… I gave Mr. Evans multiple motions I wanted filed on my behalf.”
Tello also contended that Evans failed to show him all discovery in the case and did not cross-examine witnesses “to his full potential” during the preliminary hearing in September, when Tello pled not guilty to second-degree murder.
“If he would have done so, I do not believe there would have been sufficient evidence to bind me to second-degree murder,” Tello said. “I have reasonable belief Mr. Evans is not representing me to his fullest extent or potential.”
Tello submitted notification of a change in his counsel on Jan. 18 with court approval. Because he was allowed to sever his client relationship with Evans, he filed yet another motion to nullify his previous motion for the court to find ineffective assistance of counsel. In that motion, Tello accused Evans of speaking to another inmate at the Finney County jail about issues regarding his case, thus violating his attorney-client privilege.
When contacted, Evans had no knowledge of any allegation related to a violation of attorney-client privilege or the associated motion filed by Tello. At the time, Evans had no comment on the matter.
Prior to Tello’s no-contest plea in December, Deputy Finney County Attorney William Votypka used evidence and witness testimony to construct a factual basis for the voluntary manslaughter charge, the details of which were not disputed by Tello or Evans at the time.
Votypka articulated that Tello was at a party at Romero’s residence, 508 W. Thompson St., in the early morning hours of July 2 and was harassing a female friend of Romero, so Romero asked him to leave.
According to witness testimony at the September preliminary hearing by Trenton Chiddix, who was present at the time, Tello then said he was going to “catch a body,” a euphemism, Chiddix explained, for killing someone.
Per evidence and witness testimony, Votypka went on to articulate in December that Romero followed Tello outside as Tello went to his vehicle, where he seemed to retrieve a knife before returning to confront Romero at the end of his driveway. After a brief exchange of words, Romero began to swing at Tello as Tello engaged in a swinging motion and stabbed Romero one time just above the right collarbone.
An autopsy determined that Romero most likely bled to death as a result of the wound.
Votypka described the act as “killing done in the heat of passion.”
Garden City police said in July that Romero went back into his residence after being stabbed and told others at the party to call 911. Tello had fled the premises on foot before officers arrived.
Police found Romero wounded and lying in his living room. Finney County EMS transported him to St. Catherine Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Police found Tello at his residence, hiding in a bedroom, and arrested him without incident.
During Monday’s proceedings, Tello’s motion to officially withdraw from representation by the public defender’s office was granted by the court. The case management hearing was continued to March 6 at 9 a.m. to allow time for Dhillon to more thoroughly review Tello’s case.
According to district court documents, Tello was previously convicted of burglary in Finney County and was sentenced in May 2016 to 10 months in prison. According to Kansas Department of Corrections records, Tello also was convicted of misdemeanor assault and attempted battery of a corrections officer in Ellis County.
If convicted of second-degree murder, a level-one person felony, Tello could face more than 54 years in prison, depending on his criminal history.