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Idaho appeals court rejects murderer’s 4th try to clear name

February 15, 2019

MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho appeals court has rejected a convicted murderer’s fourth attempt to clear his name.

The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports Friday that the Idaho Court of Appeals has denied John Lee’s latest petition, in which he claimed his concurrent life sentences are excessive and railed against the district court for abusing its discretion and denying his motion to withdraw his guilty pleas.

Lee is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in connection with the 2015 deaths of his adoptive mother, 61-year-old Terri Grzebielski; his landlord, 71-year-old David Trail; and Moscow Arby’s manager 47-year-old Belinda Niebuhr.

He also received a sentence of 15 years for aggravated assault in the wounding of Michael M.M. Chin, 40, of Seattle.

Lee initially pleaded not guilty but later entered Alford pleas to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery.

Alford pleas mean he did not admit guilt, but he acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict him. The deal spared Lee from the death penalty, but he waived his rights to appeal or to seek a reduced sentence.

The appeals court denied his latest petition, saying Lee “failed to show the district court abused its discretion” given the conditions of the plea deal. It also rejected Lee’s challenge against a $5,000 fine imposed by the court.

Lee also petitioned the Idaho Supreme Court to withdraw his guilty plea in 2016, challenging the judge’s objection to trying his case in mental health court and his own waiver of a speedy trial.

He then appealed later that year, claiming Latah County court imposed an excessive sentence and erred in denying Lee’s motion for a sentence reduction.

Lee filed another appeal alleging police and the county prosecutor “purposefully sabotaged” his court case by continuing to withhold about $11,000 of his cash seized as evidence.

The courts and Judge John R. Stegner have repeatedly dismissed his petitions. Stegner said it would be an injustice to allow Lee to withdraw his plea given the evidence, and that the plea agreement doesn’t allow for modifications to his sentence.

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Information from: The Moscow-Pullman Daily News, http://www.dnews.com