Ex-jail guard cites poor legal help, gets sentencing delayed

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NEW YORK (AP) — A former jail guard convicted of ignoring the pleas of a dying inmate made a last-minute claim that his legal representation had been insufficient, leading a federal judge to postpone his sentencing on Thursday.

The sudden adjournment came after more than an hour of compelling arguments over how much prison time ex-correction captain Terrence Pendergrass should receive for his role in the 2012 death of Rikers Island inmate Jason Echevarria.

Echevarria, who was 25, died after swallowing toxic detergent while housed in a now-closed solitary confinement unit for inmates who break jailhouse rules.

Pendergrass, 51, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison following his December conviction on a charge he deprived Echevarria, who was suffering from bipolar disorder, of his civil rights. His attorney had asked that he serve fewer than two years.

Echevarria had told two other correction officers he swallowed the deadly substance, but when Pendergrass was informed of that he said he didn't want to be bothered unless there was a "dead body" in the cell, court papers show.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams said she was reluctant to delay sentencing Pendergrass but set a court date for Friday to appoint him new representation after he said he believed lawyer Sam Braverman was ineffective. An assistant U.S. attorney asked that sentencing be rescheduled for next week.

Braverman declined to comment.

Before the abrupt postponement, Pendergrass addressed Echevarria's father in the gallery and apologized.

"God willing, 10 years from now, I hope that we can talk," he said, emphasizing that he would never ignore a sick inmate.

His extensive remarks followed an impassioned plea from Echevarria's father, Ramon Echevarria, who asked that the judge not spare him a lengthy prison term.

"Mr. Pendergrass does not deserve leniency," Echevarria said. "I will never forgive Mr. Pendergrass for what he did."

The president of the union representing Department of Correction captains, Patrick Ferraiuolo, said that after Pendergrass was arrested and demoted from captain to officer he was appointed an attorney by the law firm that represents the guards' union. But since that firm also represented a correction officer who testified against Pendergrass, he received representation that had a conflict of interest, Ferraiuolo said.

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