In a written decision following weeks of court appearances, Judge Kevin Dooley denied Michael Roque’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
The document, obtained by Pipe Dream, states that Roque, 20, of Massapequa, New York, knowingly and voluntarily entered his guilty plea in September. Additionally, Dooley wrote that Roque never protested his innocence while taking the plea in court on Sept. 7.
“The defendant’s belated, post-plea claim of innocence based on a possible alibi defense does not vitiate his knowing and voluntary guilty plea,” Dooley wrote. “There is nothing in the record to support the defendant’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, or of actual innocence. Therefore, the defendant’s motion for an Order permitting him to withdraw his guilty plea is denied without a hearing.”
Dooley’s decision, signed on Nov. 14, means Roque, who is accused of murdering Binghamton University freshman Joao Souza, 19, faces sentencing for a second-degree murder charge. Souza was fatally stabbed in his dorm room in Windham Hall of Mountainview College on April 15. According to police, Roque fled on foot after stabbing Souza. He was apprehended in his dorm room in Hunter Hall of Mountainview College after a 20-hour manhunt.
After he was indicted in May, Roque pleaded not guilty to the charge. At an arraignment on Sept. 6, however, he was expected to plead guilty. During that court appearance, Roque surprised everyone, including his own lawyer, when he refused to enter the plea. The next day, Roque appeared in court again after requesting a second arraignment. He pleaded guilty to the charge and said he’d panicked at the arraignment on Sept. 6.
“I first want to apologize to the court,” Roque said. “The reason for my actions yesterday was that it was too overwhelming … I panicked.”
But during a court appearance on Nov. 2, Roque went back on his plea and said his attorney pressured him into pleading guilty. He said he found Souza’s body, but didn’t commit the murder, and was “backed into a corner” with his plea deal.
Roque also requested a new lawyer during his appearance on Nov. 2, which was scheduled when he sent a letter to Dooley expressing concerns about his legal counsel. It is not the first time Roque has voiced issues with his defense lawyer, David Butler — at his arraignment on Sept. 6, he accused Butler of failing to meet with him regularly, which Butler denied.
Roque’s sentencing is currently scheduled for Tuesday. Under his plea deal, he could face a maximum sentence of 20 years to life, five years less than the maximum penalty.
The murder of Souza is the second to take place this year involving a BU student. Orlando Tercero, 22, a former nursing student at BU, is accused of murdering Haley Anderson, a senior nursing student from Westbury, New York. According to police, Tercero strangled Anderson, who was found dead on March 9 in a student residence on Binghamton’s West Side. He then fled to Nicaragua, where he was apprehended by the Nicaraguan National Police. Tercero is awaiting extradition to the United States.