A man accused of firing three gunshots into a Talent house on Thanksgiving morning in 2011 shocked the court Tuesday morning when he refused to accept a plea agreement on weapons charges and demanded to stand trial on multiple attempted murder charges.
Aaron Daniel Adrian Merlina, 30, told Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Tim Barnack at his 11 a.m. sentencing hearing that he would not accept the plea agreement or the 70-month sentence his public defender had negotiated on his behalf. Merlina added that he wanted to fire the public defender and hire his own attorney.
"I'd rather go before a jury of my peers than be forced into this plea agreement," Merlina said, adding he had come to his decision late Monday night after speaking with his parents in Arizona.
Talent police say Merlina showed up at the home of Dyana Rodrigues, 33, and Gerald Blake Wooley, 28, in the 100 block of South First Street at 6:45 a.m. on Thanksgiving day in 2011. An altercation ensued that was a continuation of a fight that had occurred the previous night at Merlina's home in the 3100 block of South Pacific Highway, said Talent police Chief Mike Moran at the time of the alleged incident.
Merlina allegedly fired three shots into the home with a small-caliber handgun before leaving the scene with the unidentified individual.
Two of the shots went through a window and one went through the front door. No one was hurt, but Rodrigues' 11-year-old daughter was showered with glass after shots came through a window near where she had been sleeping.
Merlina had been expected to plead guilty at Tuesday's hearing to four counts of unlawful use of a weapon and one count of being a felon in possession of a weapon.
Merlina's defense attorney, Kelly Ravassipour, and Jackson County prosecutor David Hoppe spent 14 months negotiating the agreement, which offered Merlina a 70-month sentence for his guilty pleas — each of which carried an individual 14-month sentence that were slated to run consecutively.
Merlina now faces up to 20 years behind bars if convicted of the attempted aggravated murder and attempted murder charges, as well as two counts of attempted second-degree assault, three counts of reckless endangerment and the weapons charges, Barnack reminded him.
Merlina, who has been held in the Jackson County Jail on $750,000 bail since the incident, said he had changed his mind about accepting the plea after speaking with his parents on the telephone the previous night.
Merlina said he appreciated the work Ravassipour had done on his behalf, but he expressed disappointment that previous evidence hearings had not gone in his favor and he said he wanted a new attorney and a jury trial.
Barnack told Merlina he was entitled to withdraw his plea, appeal previous rulings and hire a new attorney. But the judge reminded Merlina that the prosecution also had the option of changing or removing the plea offer.
"I'll leave the offer on the table until 1:30 Thursday," Hoppe said.
Barnack urged Merlina to discuss his issues with Ravassipour, who offered to stay on the case with a new attorney should Merlina wish her to remain.
"This (plea agreement) has been a tough pill for my client to swallow," she said, adding that while she respected Merlina's decision to fire her, his sudden decisions had left everyone "all a little shell shocked."
Ravassipour told Barnack that Merlina's 7-year-old son was waiting outside the courtroom, expecting to see his father.
With Barnack's permission, the boy's mother brought him into the courtroom, and he raced into his father's arms.
"I miss you," he said.
Merlina kissed and hugged the boy, telling him to "stay strong and be good in school."
Barnack set a pretrial hearing for 1:30 p.m. on Monday, March 4.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.