WEST CHESTER – On Monday afternoon, Garrett Sterner was so dissatisfied with his defense attorney that he told the judge presiding over his looming criminal trial that he wanted to fire him.
Less than 24 hours later, he was singing a different tune.
Sterner, 21, of Pottstown, accepted the offer of prison time that his attorney had negotiated with the prosecution in the case, and pleaded guilty to charges of robbery with serious bodily injury on Tuesday. Judge Anthony Sarcione sentenced him to three to seven years in state prison – less than half the sentence that his co-defendant in the 2012 shooting in Phoenixville that Sterner was to be tried had received.
“I am extremely happy with this plea, and my client is ecstatic,” said attorney Alex Silow of West Chester, who Sterner had told Sarcione he wanted removed from the case on Monday, just before the start of jury selection. Silow noted that the standard sentencing guidelines in the case called for a minimum of more than five years in prison.
Sarcione, in handing down his sentence, told Sterner that he had been wise to accept the plea bargain since he was potentially facing a much longer term behind bars if he had gone to trial and been found guilty of the charges against him.
Indeed, Shawn Nafeese Duell Jr., 22, also of Pottstown, Sterner’s co-defendant in the case, had been sentenced to 7½ to 15 years in state prison when he pleaded guilty to similar charges against him in July.
Both men are currently facing additional charges in Montgomery County for other crimes.
According to the statement of facts put on the record by Assistant District Attorney Bonnie Cox-Shaw, who was set to lead the trial against Sterner, and court records, Sterner was involved in the shooting and robbery of a man in Phoenixville who had agreed to help the pair look for a drug dealer in the borough.
On May 8, 2012, police responded to the report of a shooting outside the Pennsylvania House Hotel on High Street. There, they found James Mack Brown seriously injured with a single gunshot wound to his groin.
Brown, 20, of Phoenixville, was able to speak with investigators and tell them he was walking in the 100 block of Penn Street that evening when he was approached by two men in a car who asked whether he knew someone who would sell them marijuana.
Brown, who is currently being held in Chester County prison on unrelated charges, entered the vehicle and drove around with the two men for about 20 to 25 minutes. They were unable to locate any drug dealers, and at some point the man who was driving the car, later identified as Sterner, parked in the lot of the Pennsylvania House Hotel and got out of the vehicle.
As he did, the other man, whom police later identified as Duell, pulled a handgun on Brown and told him he would “blow his head off” if Brown did not give his backpack and money to Duell. Brown, however, told his assailant he wasn’t going to give up his backpack and Duell would “have to shoot him first.”
At that time, Sterner punched Brown in the face twice through the open window of the car door and stole the victim’s cell phone and about $20 or $30 that was wrapped around the cell phone. When the victim got out of the car and began punching Sterner, he heard a gunshot and realized Duell had shot him. Sterner and Duell jumped back in the car and fled the scene.
Police were able to identify the car, and when Pottsown police were notified they tracked the car down to a residence on East High Street. When they entered the apartment, they located Sterner and Duell, who was hiding inside a storage container inside of a closet that was locked from the outside.
When he was interrogated by Phoenixville Detective Joseph Nemic in lockup on May 14, Sterner gave a full confession about his role in the holdup and shooting.
In his complaint about Silow’s representation given to Sarcione on Monday, Sterner sad the attorney had not filed certain motions Sterner had asked him to. Silow, however, told Sarcione that the motions — one for dismissal of the charges on speedy trial issues, and another for a lineup — would have gone nowhere.
Sarcione noted that Sterner had already had one other court-appointed attorney and that he had pleaded guilty and later withdrawn that plea. He gave Sterner the option of hiring a private attorney or representing himself, but when the defendant declined both options, Sarcione went ahead with jury selection, which was completed late Monday afternoon.
By the time Sterner walked back into the courtroom Tuesday, Silow had secured the plea offer and Sterner accepted it.
Sterner still faces drug possession charges and a count of harboring a fugitive – Duell – in Montgomery County. Duell is also charged with attempted murder and related offenses stemming from an early-morning incident on April 15 in which he allegedly shot a borough woman and her adult son in Buttonwood Alley.