Putman files motion to set aside guilty plea in 1993 murder

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com
A man convicted and sentenced in the 1993 murder of a woman in Valley Forge has filed a motion in court alleging that his sentencing was illegal and therefore he should be granted a new trial.
William Matney Putman pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in February of 1995. According to police reports, Putman allegedly murdered Angela Whitehead Montgomery with a knife while robbing the Valley Forge Market on Highway 19E on June 14, 1993. The victim reportedly had been stabbed seven times and her throat had been slashed.
Montgomery, who was 34 years old at the time of her death, was the mother of two children. She had been working at the store only two weeks at the time she was murdered.
Authorities apprehended Putman in Florida two days after the incident and charged him with first-degree murder. His then-girlfriend, Donna Jean Sexton, also was arrested in Florida and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Montgomery one week later.
According to Putman's attorney, Stacy Street, Putman filed the motion on his own. "He filed a motion to set aside his guilty plea and pursue a new trial," Street said, adding that since Putman had filed the motion pro se, he had not had a chance to look at it as of Friday when Putman appeared in Criminal Court. "Part of the basis (of the motion) is that if the sentence is illegal then his guilty plea can be set aside."
Putman was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in the murder. The prosecution did not file a motion seeking the death penalty in the case. "The family (of Montgomery) really did not want to do that," Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Baldwin said. "They did not want to be put through the ordeal of drudging up these things they are trying to put behind them.
"We did talk with them about the situation and respected their wishes not to seek the death penalty. Now that he's filed a motion to set aside his guilty plea we may change our minds."
Putman will appear in Criminal Court on Sept. 22 before Judge Lynn Brown.
Putman's co-defendant in the case, Sexton, filed a similar motion to have her "no contest" plea to first-degree murder set aside. The petition was filed by attorney Kenneth F. Irvine of Knoxville.
Brown denied the petition to set aside Sexton's plea. Had the petition been granted, Sexton would have petitioned the court for a trial by jury on the murder charge.
Sexton originally filed a petition to set aside her plea in 1996. Her petition requested a new trial citing her plea was unlawfully induced by the defense attorneys assigned to her case -- Mark Slagle and Tom Jessee --without her understanding the nature and consequences of the pleas.
In her plea statement entered in March 1995, Sexton is reported as saying, "My attorneys have informed me that a life sentence in Tennessee is served by serving 30 years in the Tennessee Department of Corrections."
She claims in her affidavit dated July 21, 1996, that "advice of counsel was erroneous and contrary to the petitioner's best interest, thus denying her effective assistance of counsel."
"It is now my understanding that the law applicable to my case was that a life sentence in Tennessee was a sixty (60) year sentence. This was not explained to me by my lawyers," states Sexton in her affidavit petitioning her plea be set aside.
Defendants sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole on a first-degree murder charge must serve a minimum of 51 years in prison, according to present state sentencing guidelines.
The petition request alleges Sexton had ineffective assistance of counsel. The petition further alleges that she was denied an appointed attorney early in the case -- violating her rights to assistance of counsel provided by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
According to Irvine, Brown's denial of the motion has been appealed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.