Court to review guilty plea withdrawal by woman sentenced for Portage murder


    Court to review guilty plea withdrawal by woman sentenced for Portage murder. (WWMT/File)

    A West Michigan woman sentenced to life in prison for the 2015 murder of her ex-boyfriend’s girlfriend could get a new trial.

    Theresa Petto, 47, pleaded guilty, but mentally ill, to felony murder in Sept. 2016.

    The 47-year-old now wants to withdraw that plea and claims she is not guilty of killing Rachel Drafta.

    In an affidavit filed in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, Petto argued her trial attorney used false information to persuade her to plead guilty.

    Petto said in the court documents that attorney Jason Ronning told her, “she would only get physical and mental health treatment in prison if she pleaded guilty, but mentally ill.”

    Filed two years into her life sentence, the motion to withdraw Petto’s plea said, “she relied on her attorney’s and Judge Lipsey’s wrong advice when entering her guilty plea; her guilty plea was illusory and involuntary.”

    Circuit Court Judge Alexander C. Lipsey sentenced Petto in 2016 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    Petto also said in court documents Ronning told her she the plea would place her a prison psych ward, but she’s been in the general population at the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti.

    In court documents filed in October 2018, Petto claimed she did not intend to kill Drafta, but the gun fell out of her pocket during a scuffle.

    Drafta was shot in the driveway of her parent’s Portage home in 2015. She died two days later.

    Police said Petto stalked Drafta for months and that investigators found a set of instructions she wrote to herself on how to kidnap and kill Drafta.

    The same judge who sentenced Petto would hear her appellate attorney’s motion to withdraw the guilty plea and claims of ineffective counsel Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

    Ronning, Petto’s former attorney, said he has no concerns about the upcoming hearing and added that Petto made the decision to plead guilty. He believes the court will uphold her conviction.

    A judge denied her guilty plea withdrawal in Aug. 2017.

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