Former Binghamton University student Michael Roque appeared before Judge Kevin Dooley in court Friday morning and backpedaled on his guilty plea, which he entered in September.
Roque, 20, of Massapequa, New York, who is accused of murdering freshman Joao Souza, 19, faces 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; however, at an arraignment on Sept. 6, 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 his court appearance on Friday, 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.
“I was backed into a corner,” Roque said. “I can prove I’m innocent.”
Roque also requested a new lawyer during his appearance on Friday, 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.
Under the plea deal Roque accepted, he could face a maximum sentence of 20 years to life. Without the deal, the case would go to trial, where Roque could see a sentence of 25 years to life. On Friday, Dooley declined to make an immediate decision on Roque’s motion. Instead, he will rule on the motion on Nov. 14, just days before Roque’s sentencing is scheduled.
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.