On Friday, Michael Roque, the former Binghamton University student accused of murdering freshman Joao Souza in April, pleaded guilty to one indictment of second-degree murder at an arraignment in Broome County Court.
Roque, 20, of Massapequa, New York, initially rejected the plea deal when he appeared in court on Thursday, a move that seemed to surprise his defense lawyer, David Butler. On Thursday, he also said he had not received information regarding his case from prosecutors and accused Butler of not meeting with him regularly. Butler said he had met with Roque “more times than I can count.”
With his parents and Butler watching, Roque reversed his decision and apologized to Judge Kevin Dooley on Friday.
“I first want to apologize to the court,” Roque said. “The reason for my actions yesterday was that it was too overwhelming … I panicked.”
Roque also said he believed entering a guilty plea is “the best choice” he could make.
Roque is accused of murdering Souza, 19, on April 15. Souza was fatally stabbed in his dorm room in Windham Hall of Mountainview College. 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.
By taking the plea deal, Roque faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison, and gives up his right to remain silent and his right to trial by jury. Initially, he would have faced 25 years to life in prison if convicted. Dooley said he is “making no commitment” to what Roque’s sentence will ultimately be.
Roque’s sentencing has been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 16 at 9 a.m. at Broome County Court.
In statements to the press after the arraignment, Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell called the murder a “horrific crime” and said his office would work to present a strong case at Roque’s sentencing.
“We will make our specific arguments at the time of the sentencing, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to go into those facts now, so we do it in court at the time of sentencing,” Cornwell said. “On these facts, we’ll make a strong argument that he doesn’t get out and that he spends the rest of his life in prison. He can make his argument to the contrary.”
A motive in the murder has not been released. However, Cornwell said he intends to discuss motives in the crime at sentencing.
“We will present that information to the judge because it is relevant to what sentence the defendant should receive and explains what our position is in regard to sentencing,” Cornwell said. “So we will get into the motive and the facts of the case at that time.”
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.