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Woman convicted of Intoxication Manslaughter granted new trial after “fatally flawed” plea agreement

The woman sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to Intoxication Manslaughter has been granted a new trial, according to a court document obtained by ABC-7.

In July of 2013, then 21-year-old Desiree Skaf, allegedly rear-ended a small sedan driven by Iris Bustamante, causing the car to run off the road into a utility pole. It happened on the 5900 block of Doniphan.

Bustamante and her passenger, Janet Balderrama, 25, were both seriously injured and taken to University Medical Center. Balderrama later died from her injuries.

According to the court document, “after a series of protracted hearings and at least one failed trial,” the defendant reached a plea deal on February 24, 2016.

Skaf’s attorney at the time, Mario Gonzalez , stated in an affidavit that was part of a motion for a pending trial, that he unilaterally “crossed out the paragraph relating to waiving the right to appeal.”

The court document further states “this cross-through was unnoticed by either the state’s attorney or the Trial Court and the defendant entered her plea of guilty.”

This reportedly led to a series of “heated arguments” between the trial court and Gonzalez, according to the court document.

“The Trial Court rejected the plea agreement and rejected panicked, repeated, and conflicting overtures by Defendant’s attorneys to withdraw her plea, or waive her appeal rights, or otherwise reset and start over,” the document states, “Instead, the Trial Court proceeded to sentence the defendant to 15 years in prison.”

In his conclusion, Senior Justice David Wellington Chew, sitting on assignment in the 171st District Court, stated there was a “fatally flawed” plea agreement by the “unilateral and unapproved modification of the plea papers by the defendant’s previous counsel.”

Wellington Chew goes on to state, “In the face of her previous counsel’s misrepresentations, the defendant’s plea was not voluntary or knowing. The defendant should be entitled, as a matter of law, to withdraw her plea of guilty and have her motion for a new trial granted.”

The judge did rule against Skaf’s motion to have Judge Bonnie Rangel recused from a new trial. “I am not convinced there is sufficient evidence before me to raise a genuine question of the Trial Court’s impartiality going forward,” Wellington Chew said.

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