Michael Carothers, the white man convicted last November of using pepper spray on a black man, awaits a Columbus court hearing on whether he can withdraw his guilty plea and instead proceed to trial.
Carothers, also known as Michael Weaver, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in the December 2010 incident. Known for distributing white nationalist literature on vehicles downtown, Carothers opted to plead guilty after Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters ruled a jury would hear about a 1999 incident in which Weaver claimed to be a skinhead, used a racial slur and threatened to kill a 15-year-old girl at Jordan High School.
Carothers, 32, was sentenced to a year in prison, followed by nine years’ probation. He also was banished from the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit. He filed his motion to withdraw his guilty plea days later, arguing that his plea wasn’t voluntarily given and his counsel was ineffective.
Authorities recently returned Carothers to the Muscogee County Jail in anticipation of his hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday.
“Counsel was negligent in not fully explaining comprehensively the full extent of the conditions and content of the plea agreement offer,” Carothers states.
“Counsel went beyond ethical boundaries by telling the defendant ‘It would be in your best interest to accept this plea offer of 10 years serve one year, I don’t want to see you serve a lot of years in prison by taking this to trial.’”
Carothers also argues his counsel failed to tell him that no case law showed Mace, or pepper spray, was capable of causing “great bodily harm,” “serious bodily harm,” or is an “object that is likely to cause serious bodily injury.”
Someone can be convicted of aggravated assault when “with a deadly weapon or with any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury,” according to state law.
Carothers’ defense attorneys at his plea, Robin King and Ray Lakes, who is black, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Carothers will have completed his one-year sentence on Aug. 22, records state. His banishment from Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee, Taylor, Talbot and Marion counties lasts through his nine-year probation.