Defendant in confinement case accepts plea agreement
Less than a week after advising the court he wanted to represent himself in a Putnam Superior Court bench trial, a 34-year-old Cloverdale man has reversed field and accepted a plea agreement in a controversial confinement case.
Michael Shane Witt, facing two felonies and a misdemeanor as a result of a Dec. 29 incident at the Cloverdale home he shared with six children, has agreed to plead guilty to neglect of a dependent, a Class C felony punishable by up to eight years in prison.
In exchange for Witt's guilty plea, Putnam County Prosecutor Timothy Bookwalter has agreed to dismiss charges of battery causing bodily injury, a Class D felony, and domestic battery, a Class A misdemeanor.
Appearing briefly at a change-of-plea hearing before Superior Court Judge Denny Bridges Tuesday afternoon, Witt sat alone at the defense table with court-appointed standby counsel Scott Bienick behind him in the front row of seats generally reserved for defendants awaiting their hearings.
Bookwalter explained that soon after Witt announced he wished to represent himself at a bench trial that Judge Bridges had ordered set for June 14, the Prosecutor's Office prepared a plea agreement and had it forwarded to Witt at the Putnam County Jail.
"I sent him a plea and he sent it back with some minor changes," Bookwalter told the court.
After a couple modifications and a review of the plea agreement by standby counsel Bienick, it was presented to Judge Bridges. He took it under advisement Tuesday afternoon to await a presentence investigation to be conducted into Witt's background.
In awaiting that, Judge Bridges set a sentencing hearing for 2 p.m. May 29.
"I'm ready to be sentenced as soon as possible to get these court proceedings over with," Witt asserted.
Witt asked if the court would be talking about his probation at that time, and was advised that probation would be up to the judge.
As written, the plea agreement calls for Witt to serve a maximum executed sentence of three years in the Indiana Department of Correction.
Terms of the agreement include that the defendant take all required mental health medications, complete all recommended mental health treatment and comply with all Department of Child Services (DSC) orders and directives.
The highly publicized confinement case became public late last year after Witt reportedly became enraged that his 10-year-old stepson had spilled sugar on the kitchen floor.
As punishment, Witt allegedly confined the boy in a room without access to food, water or toilet facilities.
"You didn't allow him to have proper sanitary facilities," Bookwalter pointed out to the defendant Tuesday in reviewing the plea deal.
"I'm admitting guilt to that," Witt replied.
His estranged wife April Wilson-Witt advised authorities Shane had poked the boy who spilled the sugar on top of his head and then elbowed her in the head and face.
It was while interviewing the wife that officers noticed a "strong odor of urine and feces" from a back bedroom area and found a closed door with a rectangular piece removed, resembling a cell opening.
Officers later discovered a stool with a circular section cut out of the seat positioned over a trashcan and trash bag to collect human waste.
Witt was arrested last Dec. 29 and has remained in the Putnam County Jail ever since. His wife was arrested Jan. 10 and has since been released.