The merry-go-round of uncertainty surrounding former Clay County sheriff's deputy Jonathan T. Lambert's legal problems stopped Thursday, when Clay County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Trout accepted a third guilty plea agreement presented in the case and the sentencing recommendation for home detention, but only if Lambert served the maximum amount of assigned time in Clay County.
Facing charges stemming from a 16-hour standoff at his home with law enforcement after a domestic dispute with his girlfriend in September 2006, Lambert pled guilty in February, but was not sentenced.
Trout wanted to take the new plea agreement presented by Special Prosecutor Nina Alexander and Defense Attorney Joseph Etling under advisement before announcing his decision to accept or reject the plea agreement and its sentencing recommendations.
Bad weather conditions forced the scheduled Feb. 22 court date to be rescheduled to Thursday.
The prosecution and defense made formal changes to the third plea agreement at the beginning of Thursday's proceedings, which allowed for a maximum sentence of 180 days in-home detention in both cases to be consecutive and not concurrent as originally provided to the court.
Then defense attorney Joseph Etling attempted to persuade Trout to allow Lambert to move on with his life, which consists mainly of letting him remain gainfully employed at Phoenix Fabricators And Erectors, Inc., Avon, Ind.
Employed as a general laborer at the firm since November 2007, Lambert has to travel around the country at various job sites to help construct water tanks.
A Phoenix representative testified the company has previously cooperated in other court matters for employees and it would be willing to cooperate with Clay Circuit Court's ordered requirements by providing weekly, even daily if necessary, updates about Lambert's whereabouts and job performance. Lambert would also be subject to the company's random five-panel drug testing program.
Although it's not what he dreamed of, Lambert's mother Mary A. Lee said the job was allowing her son a second chance at having a productive life.
Lambert echoed the sentiment when he took the stand.
Although no one has treated him badly since bonding out of jail in December 2006, Lambert said living in Clay County has become very uncomfortable.
"Clay County was home and I was proud to live here. The people in this county were the reason I did the job," Lambert said, and then testified the feeling in the community has changed toward him. "I don't like being here anymore. It just isn't comfortable for me in this community anymore."
At the request of Etling, Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton provided an affidavit to the court stating the amount of restitution ($1,237.58) provided in the third plea agreement for the cost of sheriff's department equipment damaged during the September 2006 standoff was acceptable.
Special Prosecutor Nina Alexander, Indiana State Police Det. Troy Stanton and the victim, Cayla Hayes-Barker, agreed with the position of the defense and also requested Trout accept the plea agreement and place Lambert on probation that would allow him to keep his new job.
However, Trout, who has felt previous plea agreements were too lenient, sentenced Lambert to the maximum punishment allowable under the current plea agreement, 180 days of electronically monitored in-home detention in each case.
Trout said he was impressed with Lambert's initiative to make his life better, but reminded the court that a person who is found guilty or pleads guilty to charges has to pay their debt to society first.