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Virginia man seeks to withdraw murder plea

VIRGINIA, Minn. -- A Virginia man who is set to be the fourth and final defendant sentenced in an April 2014 stabbing death will seek to withdraw his guilty plea -- adding yet another wrinkle to an unusually complicated and prolonged case.

VIRGINIA, Minn. - A Virginia man who is set to be the fourth and final defendant sentenced in an April 2014 stabbing death will seek to withdraw his guilty plea - adding yet another wrinkle to an unusually complicated and prolonged case.

Bartholamy Jake Drift, 42, is scheduled to appear in State District Court in Virginia for sentencing on Jan. 23.

Drift was the first person to admit to his role in the stabbing death of 28-year-old Harley Joseph Jacka inside a Virginia apartment. He pleaded guilty to an intentional second-degree murder charge in September 2015.

But defense attorney Lara Whiteside this week filed a motion asking 6th Judicial District Judge James Florey to allow her client to withdraw the plea - citing the sentence handed out last month to co-defendant Anthony James Isham.

Under a plea agreement between Drift and the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office, it is anticipated that prosecutors will seek a prison sentence of approximately 32 years for Drift, while his defense attorneys will seek a term of roughly 27½ years.

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Isham, despite being uncooperative through the court process and having a more substantial criminal history than Drift, was “rewarded” with a prison sentence of slightly more than 30 years, Whiteside said.

She argued that Drift should be allowed to withdraw the plea because he was under the belief that all other co-defendants would receive the same offer. She noted that he could still be sentenced to a longer prison term that Isham received.

“This is unfair and unjust,” Whiteside wrote in a brief.

Jacka was found dead on April 29, 2014, in an apartment at 207 Fifth St., in Virginia. An autopsy found he had been stabbed 15 times in the head, face, neck and chest. Four knives were found at the scene.

Drift testified in November 2015 that he stabbed Jacka in the chest once with a knife before fleeing the apartment. He agreed to participate in the prosecution of the remaining co-defendants, so his sentencing was placed on hold indefinitely.

Another co-defendant, Janessa Lynn Peters, came forward in August 2015 to admit that she arranged the killing of Jacka, her boyfriend, because she was having trouble breaking up with him. She said she asked Drift, with whom she was also in a relationship, to kill him. Peters was sentenced Monday to nearly 29 years in prison.

Isham pleaded guilty to intentional second-degree murder in November after finally reaching an agreement with prosecutors - many months after his co-defendants had admitted guilt. He testified that he had stabbed Jacka three times. The agreement stipulated a 363-month prison term, leading to an uncontested sentencing hearing.

Isham’s plea came only after a highly contentious court process, in which he was indicted on premeditated first-degree murder charges and received a new attorney after threatening his public defenders in a courthouse meeting.

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Another initial suspect, John Edward Isham, pleaded guilty last spring to aiding an offender after the fact and was sentenced to approximately 6½ years in prison.

The St. Louis County Attorney’s Office has not yet responded to Drift’s motion. Florey is expected to hear arguments on it at the scheduled sentencing date.

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