Mon, Feb. 17

Editorial: More than anyone else, Collins is to blame for the mess his case has become

OK, here we are back to square one in the Seth Collins trial and there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on.

Some will blame Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Michael R. Bluff for not getting this thing over and done with last week based on Collins’ guilty plea on a deal that called for 21 to 25 years in prison.

Defense attorney Alex Harris took a few well-aimed shots at the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office Wednesday. Harris said it’s unfortunate the state withdrew its plea offer to Collins just so it could extract more punishment for the man accused in a horrific head-on crash on Arizona 260 three years ago.

But more than anyone else, Collins is the person who deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the legal mess this case has become.

See, two years ago, Collins, who is in his late 40s, was offered a plea deal by the County Attorney’s Office that called for a stipulated sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison, as opposed to the potential 168 years he was looking at if convicted on each of the 23 charges filed against him in a jury trial. Had he been listening closely to Bluff during these proceedings, he clearly would have heard the judge say that he was sensitive to the prospect of sentencing him to a term that would represent life, or nearly all his life, in prison.

From that point forward, this case became a circus. Collins fired his lawyer and decided he would represent himself. He filed motions to have Judge Bluff removed from the case when it’s obvious Bluff was the best friend he could ask for given his legal predicament. Along the way, he pleaded guilty in a subsequent plea agreement that called for a stipulated sentence of 21 to 25 years.

Bluff ended up rejecting that stipulation. Give the man credit for being consistent. Two years ago when a 15- to 20-year deal was on the table, Bluff said he was sensitive to allowing the man to have a life after prison vs. spending the rest of his life in prison. In rejecting the new 21- to 25-year deal, he said he thought that sentencing range was inappropriate. When asked what he considered appropriate, Bluff referenced the 15- to 20-year range in the original pre-sentence report for Collins.

Upon learning the judge was not inclined to honor the 21- to 25-year deal in the second plea bargain, the prosecution insisted it would prefer to go to trial. Again, as was the case with the judge, look at the consistency of Prosecutor Patti Wortman. The judge may have been leaning toward the lighter end of a 15- to 20-year sentence, but the state made that offer to Collins two years ago and he turned it down. He had his chance with the state. This isn’t some game with Mulligans. You can’t stop when things aren’t going your way and ask for a do-over.

Somewhere down the road, you can’t help but think Collins one day is going to be kicking himself for not taking that 15- to 20-year deal when he first had the chance.

At some point, when a new judge is administering his case, you can’t help but think Collins is going to wish he had rolled the dice with Judge Bluff instead of attempting to have him kicked off the case and accusing him of perpetuating a “manifest injustice.”

Finally, at some point, if he is honest with himself, you can’t help but think Collins will look in the mirror and admit that President Abraham Lincoln had it right more than 150 years ago when he said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

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