Local News

Man withdraws guilty plea to killing 28-year-old with SUV

Posted May 20, 2011 12:04 p.m. EDT
Updated May 20, 2011 4:03 p.m. EDT

— Stanton Mark Moretti Jr. was due to be sentenced Friday after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder Tuesday in the 2008 death of Aaron Lazarus McLeod, 28.

Instead, Moretti, 45, of Raeford, left the courtroom, saying one word to reporters: "Freedom."

Moretti came to court Friday with a new lawyer, D.W. Bray, who replaced two public defenders, and asked to withdraw his guilty plea.

Prosecutors, who believe that Moretti committed first-degree murder by running over McLeod three times after an attempted robbery, fought the withdrawal. They called it "a ruse to continue the case and manipulate the system."

The judge, however, allowed Moretti to withdraw the plea and proceed with a trial on the original charge. Jury selection is set to begin Monday.

"He believes he's innocent, and I believe it's also a reflection of his confidence with what I can present to the jury," said Bray, who is being paid by Moretti.

Bray said his client regretted making a guilty plea while facing the specter of a murder trial. Moretti was also taking anti-anxiety medicine that clouded his judgment, the lawyer said.

"Sometimes people make mistakes under pressure," Bray said.

Relatives of McLeod said the plea withdrawal was just a tactic to draw out the case.

"It seems like to me he just wants to buy more time," said McLeod's aunt, Barbara McLeod.

She said it also creates "absolutely more stress" for the family, including McLeod's father.

"His health has been very bad, and they need to get closure from this. It's been three years," Barbara McLeod said.

Moretti told police that he chased a man who tried to rob his wife at knifepoint outside a pizzeria on Yadkin Road in Fayetteville on Feb. 23, 2008.

Anna Moretti yelled for her husband, who said he responded by firing two warning shots, then chasing the alleged attacker in his GMC Yukon. Moretti hit McLeod three times as he ran down Horseshoe Road.

In a pre-trial interview, Moretti said he heard loud noises that he thought were gunshots and ducked, hitting McLeod.