Jackson withdraws plea: Athlete rejects original sentence deal, case likely to go to trial

Sophomore guard Zay Jackson sits head in hands during a men’s basketball game against Brescia earlier in the season. He has been benched indefinitely after he was indicted for striking two individuals with his car in a Walmart parking lot. || Samuel T. Hays/The News

Sophomore guard Zay Jackson sits head in hands during a men’s basketball game against Brescia earlier in the season. He has been benched indefinitely after he was indicted for striking two individuals with his car in a Walmart parking lot. || Samuel T. Hays/The News

Zaveral “Zay” Jackson has withdrawn his guilty plea, erasing two months of decision-making by the Calloway County court system.

The men’s basketball guard originally pled guilty to two charges of wanton endangerment after striking two civilians with his car in the Murray Walmart parking lot in early September.

Jackson appeared at a status hearing Nov. 21 to decline or accept special circuit Judge Craig Clymer’s one-year jail sentence. Instead, defense attorney Gary Haverstock asked Clymer to allow Jackson to withdraw his guilty plea.

Clymer said in open court Jackson has the constitutional right to withdraw his plea and appear before a grand jury. By no longer admitting to the two counts of wanton endangerment, Clymer said Jackson is no longer accepting responsibility for his actions.

“If he’s indicted for a crime and it’s a felony, all of the previous offers are off the table,” Clymer said.

Commonwealth Attorney Mark Blankenship said the state was neutral on Jackson’s decision to withdraw his plea. Blankenship said he was surprised by Haverstock and Jackson’s decision.

“I guess I was thinking Jackson would go ahead and accept what the judge had indicated acceptable to the court,” Blankenship said. “He didn’t, and I’m neutral because any defendant coming to the court system has the right to have their case reviewed by a grand jury. He gave up that right, but that was when he had an agreement.”

Clymer said he believed Jackson was hesitant to accept the one-year sentence because the original plea deal discussed by Haverstock and Blankenship was much lighter. This diversion program would have given Jackson 30 days in jail to be served on weekends, along with several other behavioral programs.

Judge Dennis Foust, the original judge over the Jackson case, was expected to accept this diversion program in October. Foust unexpectedly left the case instead after his ties to Murray State were questioned.

The one-year jail sentence Jackson was offered by Clymer included a possibility of shock probation. Blankenship said this form of a diversion program would have been likely if Jackson had accepted the sentence.

“I don’t practice in front of Clymer, but if a judge makes a statement about considering shock probation, more than likely it will be granted,” Blankenship said. “If not, Clymer would’ve told Jackson it wouldn’t be a possibility at the beginning.”

Blankenship said the trial is basically back to square one.

When Foust decided to leave the case, Head Basketball Coach Steve Prohm and Athletic Director Allen Ward suspended Jackson from all team activities.

Shortly after the start of the 2012-13 season, Jackson began practicing with the team again.

The Murray State athletic department declined to comment.

Story by Lexy Gross, Staff Writer.