By Darrell Todd Maurina, CNJ STAFF WRITER
Warren Lee Nuckols Jr. waited nearly a year for his day in court to fight a citation for selling tobacco to minors. But on Friday he entered an Alford plea and received a suspended sentence with no fine or prison time and 364 days unsupervised probation.
In an Alford plea, according to officials, the defendant admits sufficient evidence exists to convict but maintains his innocence.
Judge Teddy Hartley reminded Nuckols that he could receive up to 364 days in county jail and a $1,000 fine for the June 11 incident. Assistant District Attorney Brian McKay described the procedure used by Agent D. Ledezma-Pinon in her sting of Nuckols’ cigarette store.
“An undercover investigation was conducted by state police (and) she used a minor,” McKay told Hartley. “The minor was able to purchase tobacco products from the defendant’s store.”
Nuckols didn’t respond to the allegations in court and declined comment after the hearing, but last year he told the Clovis News Journal the June 11 incident was a case of “pure entrapment.”
Nuckols said he believed the operation intentionally tried to distract him so he wouldn’t pay attention to the person trying to buy tobacco, and said witnesses who happened to be in the store would testify to the conduct of the male undercover officer.
“The thing that got me was (my friend) said it looked like (the undercover officer) stuffed something in his pocket,” Nuckols said. “They’ve been stinging on me for four years, and they haven’t ever caught me. I think that would be worth something.”
Nuckols said last year that he tried to make a case that Ledezma-Pinon should give him a warning, but wasn’t successful.
“She kept telling me, ‘Tell it to the judge, tell it to the judge, I don’t want to hear it,’” Nuckols said.
Nuckols also objected to the timing of the sting, which came after he had posted signs saying the business was closed for the day but before he had shut the door, and said the minor appeared older than her age.
McKay said none of those defenses should be allowed in court.
“There has been no judicial decision, but I told Mr. Nuckols that I would oppose any entrapment instruction being given to a jury,” McKay said following the court hearing.
“The way I understand the facts, (Ledezma-Pinon) just had another person waiting in the store, and for an undercover investigation like this we would want to have another witness,” McKay said.
McKay said Nuckols might have gotten the same sentence even if he had been convicted following a trial.
“He probably could have gone through a full-blown jury trial and he probably still would have gotten unsupervised probation,” McKay said. “As backlogged as the court system is, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”