Guatemalan immigrant accused of stabbing his Farmington roommate seeks to withdraw guilty plea
CANANDAIGUA — The Farmington man who admitted to stabbing his roommate in the abdomen in November 2014 has requested that his guilty plea be taken off the table.
Robert Tucker, the attorney representing 32-year-old Cristobal Xocol-Tzep, submitted an application withdrawing his client's February guilty plea that carried with it a seven-year prison sentence.
According to the defense attorney, the crux of the withdrawal application centers on his client's lack of understanding of the judicial process due to a language barrier.
Xocol-Tzep was slated to be sentenced Monday afternoon in Ontario County Court. In February, Xocol-Tzep pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted assault, a class C felony, in exchange for the prison sentence offered by the Ontario County District Attorney's Office.
After Monday's hearing, Tucker noted that throughout the case, Xocol-Tzep — a Guatemala citizen who does not know English —has had a Spanish interpreter accompany him during hearings.
According to Tucker, Xocol-Tzep's native language isn't Spanish, but Quiche — a Mayan Indian dialect. Xocol-Tzep didn't begin to learn Spanish until he was an adult.
"Even though he speaks some Spanish, and can be conversed to in that way, there is some question on if he can really understand everything that was going on during the proceedings and during his guilty plea," Tucker said.
Xocol-Tzep has a fifth-grade education that he received in Guatemala, the country where he spent the majority of his life, Tucker added. Xocol-Tzep, who came to the U.S. to work, is not a U.S. citizen, nor has he taken any classes toward naturalization.
"To presume that he understands the United States judicial system is a bit of a stretch," the attorney added. "We're not really sure it was adequately explained to him to the point where he understood that unlike in Guatemala, he has the right to a jury, the right to a trial, the right to defenses — everything that the Constitution provides."
The defense attorney added that, from the beginning, his client has told police that he stabbed his 27-year-old roommate in self-defense.
According to court documents, through an interpreter, Xocol-Tzep explained the incident, which took place at approximately 6 a.m. Nov. 10, 2014, to a member of the Ontario County Sheriff's Office.
In the statement, Xocol-Tzep said he and his roommate were playing a game of cards when the victim became angry. According to the statement, the defendant said that his roommate then began hitting him.
The translation of what happened next is ambiguous, as Xocol-Tzep allegedly said that he didn't know where the knife was, or how it got into his possession, but regardless, the knife ended up in his hand. Xocol-Tzep said that he then "struck the man once with the knife."
"I defended myself," Xocol-Tzep said through the translator. "He attacked me first."
The victim has since recovered from the wound.
Tucker said in court documents that when Xocol-Tzep entered the guilty plea, he was unaware that it included a prison sentence, and that his client assumed that it mean he would be deported.
Tucker noted that he intends to slow down discussions with him regarding the case moving forward to ensure that Xocol-Tzep understands the process.
Monday afternoon's adjournment was the third time Xocol-Tzep's sentencing has been adjourned. In the past it was due to a lack of a translator, and then a switch in representation.
The withdrawal application will be addressed during a hearing at 10 a.m. April 27.