The public defender for Yafest Oliver, 28, one of five inmates charged in connection with the 2015 riot at Houtzdale state prison, submitted a motion Monday in Clearfield County Court to withdraw from the case.
Oliver, who signed a plea agreement in June, but later claimed his innocence and voiced a desire to take his case to trial, said he felt his attorney had pressured him into the plea agreement.
President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman granted the motion to remove this attorney from the case.
Oliver is charged with four counts each of aggravated assault, assault by prisoner, simple assault and harassment in addition to riot and disorderly conduct in the incident that led to four corrections officers being taken to UPMC Altoona for injuries.
A motion to withdraw his plea was discussed briefly in August, when Oliver stated he didn’t know what he was doing when he signed the plea due to his being under the influence of Topamax and Benedryl. It was determined that testimony from medical personnel from the prison was necessary and the hearing was continued.
After Ammerman granted the motion Monday, Oliver explained he still wanted to withdraw his guilty plea. Ammerman told Oliver that he could file a motion for new counsel or if he wanted to proceed on his own, a stand-by counsel could be assigned to him. After Oliver makes that decision, a continuation of the original hearing on his motion to withdraw his guilty plea will be scheduled.
Oliver is currently serving a 20- to 40-year sentence for a 2008 murder in Philadelphia.
Three other inmates have already pleaded guilty and have been sentenced in this case. Richard Adams, 35, received a total of 15 to 30 years in state prison, Norman Wothman, 53, was given 35 to 70 years in state prison and Bahair Stafford, 29, will serve five to 15 years in state prison. A trial for Isaiah Samir Lakeem Hall, 26, ended in a mistrial after the jury could not reach an unanimous agreement on any of the charges. It is being rescheduled for another trial.