A Bigfork man convicted of felony sexual assault on a minor in January has been allowed to withdraw the plea he gave at that time. He’s now scheduled to go back to court for a jury trial later this year.
George Wilcoxen submitted an Alford plea in January to the 2013 sexual assault of a 6-year-old girl. An Alford plea allowed him to maintain his innocence while acknowledging that the prosecution likely had enough evidence for a jury to convict him.
Flathead County District Judge Heidi Ulbrich accepted a plea agreement in which Wilcoxen was sentenced to 20 years with the state Department of Corrections, with 15 years suspended. After 30 days in county jail he was to be placed back in the community under an intensive supervision program.
Earlier this month, after more than 80 days incarcerated, Wilcoxen filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and vacate his sentence, saying he was unaware that additional screening within the DOC could result in additional jail or prison time. The county prosecutor did not oppose the motion.
On Wednesday Judge Ulbricht granted the plea withdrawal.
"The court will vacate the judgment and sentence, and the court will release Mr. Wilcoxen from the Department of Corrections," Ulbricht said from the bench.
Audible gasps filled the courtroom from the 40 people at the hearing.
Wilcoxen also submitted a new plea agreement with a recommended sentence of 20 years with the DOC with all suspended The deal would release him back into the community under an intensive supervision program with 52 conditions of probation.
At the hearing Wednesday, the victim’s mother, whose name we’re withholding to protect the victim’s identity, said the deal was in the best interest of her children.
"It will hopefully allow us to move forward with the healing process and finally put this very painful experience behind us.
But Judge Ulbricht denied the plea deal on the grounds that it did not comply with recommendations from Wilcoxen’s psychosexual analyst for additional screening before his placement in a treatment program. She set a jury trial for September 10.
Peter Leander, Wilcoxen’s lawyer, says it’s too early to say if his client will seek another plea agreement.
"We're really just absorbing the information," Leander said. "These are highly emotional periods of time for everybody, and I want to make sure whatever decision is made is made after thoughtful, level-headed consideration of all the factors involved."
Wilcoxen was released Wednesday with the condition he doesn’t directly or indirectly contact the victim’s family or children under the age of 18 without parental consent.
He has maintained his innocence since he was first charged three years ago.