0123 Jonathan Appelt
Jonathan Appelt pleads guilty Friday to reduced charges in connection with two recent assaults on local homeless men. As part of a plea agreement, Appelt was sentenced to a year's probation and ordered to undergo anger management counseling. (Andy ‚ripe | Gazette-Times)

One of two Corvallis teens accused of attacking local homeless men was released from jail Friday as part of a plea agreement while charges against the other were dropped after he was compelled to testify before a grand jury.

"I don't like the deal," prosecutor Christian Stringer told Judge David B. Connell in Benton County Circuit Court Friday morning. "But I think it's a realistic deal."

Jonathan Appelt, 18, was charged with second-degree robbery, a felony, in connection with the Jan. 4 beating and robbery of Stephen Surdyka, 55, outside the University Market at 1149 N.W. Van Buren Ave.

Appelt was also charged with third-degree assault, another felony, in the beating of Jonathan Leasure, 60, under a downtown bridge in October.

Robert Griffin, 19, was arrested with Appelt on Jan. 6 and was also charged in both attacks. But the charges against Griffin were dropped after prosecutors compelled him to testify before a grand jury. In cases where a criminal defendant is compelled to give testimony that could incriminate him, Oregon law requires immunity from prosecution.

Appelt appeared in court on Friday wearing a black-and-white jailhouse jumpsuit over orange coveralls and shackled hand and foot. Flanked by his court-appointed attorney, Brett Jaspers, he pleaded guilty to a pair of lesser charges, attempted third-degree robbery and fourth-degree assault. Both are misdemeanors.

Accepting the agreement worked out between Jaspers and Stringer, Judge Connell sentenced Appelt to a year's probation and a $350 fine, plus attorney's fees and court costs. In addition, Appelt was ordered to undergo anger management counseling and to have no contact with either of the victims or Griffin. He was also sentenced to 15 days in jail but received credit for time served since his arrest 16 days earlier.

Griffin and Appelt initially were charged in connection with an assault on Matthew Edwards, 18, that allegedly took place Jan. 4 in Central Park. Those charges were dropped after Edwards withdrew his claim that the two attacked him because he is bisexual and Griffin recanted a confession of the crime.

In court on Friday, Stringer told Judge Connell that the district attorney's office had little choice but to accept the plea agreement, despite Griffin's testimony to the grand jury.

Stringer said Surdyka gave conflicting accounts of the assault against him and that the witnesses in the Leasure assault - who, like the victims, are homeless - could not be located.

On the other hand, he noted, the two misdemeanor convictions would remain on Appelt's record and would count against him if he committed any future assaults.

"If he engages in violent conduct again, it would be presumptive prison (time)," Stringer said.

Appelt's attorney called the plea bargain fair and said his client was unlikely to violate the terms of the agreement.

"I think the outcome is appropriate," Jaspers told the court. "Mr. Appelt's had a wakeup call."

For his part, Appelt was impassive throughout the proceedings. Asked if he had anything to say, he told the judge he was undergoing drug and alcohol treatment and that he was working on "getting myself back on track."

Bennett Hall can be reached at 758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net.


Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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