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Court refuses to reverse guilty plea in blackmail case

A judge refused to allow a man who pleaded guilty to blackmail to vacate his plea after the defendant raised concerns about media coverage.

Jordan Zancanella pleaded guilty in March to a single count of blackmail related to “menacing” communications sent to a doctor at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute demanding money in May 2019.

However, Zancanella later sent an e-mail to the court requesting that his plea be vacated.

While he had cited “dangerous advice” in his e-mail, during a subsequent court appearance he said that he had become alarmed after seeing a front-page story in The Royal Gazette regarding a man in another case being convicted of blackmail.

During a hearing in Supreme Court yesterday, Assistant Justice Charles-Etta Simmons declined the application, stating that the plea was not equivocal and did not stem from a mistake.

She added that there was no evidence to suggest that Zancanella did not understand the charges or that he was under any pressure or duress to plead guilty.

Mrs Justice Simmons said: “The defendant, notwithstanding saying in an e-mail he had taken dangerous advice from defence counsel, later stated he wished to change his plea because having seen a case reported in The Royal Gazette, where in that defendant received a custodial sentence, the defendant didn’t want to have press coverage in his case because, to him, people would think he was a bad person.”

Vaughn Caines, counsel for Zancanella, told the court that he was originally “taken aback” by his client’s e-mail to the court and considered withdrawing from the case.

However, he said that Zancanella asked him to stay on the case and clarified the reason for the application.

“He had seen the previous day a report in the paper someone who was charged and found guilty of blackmail and was afraid of his matter being on The Royal Gazette,” Mr Caines said. “He was embarrassed.”

“These are the only reasons that I have gleaned from Mr Zancanella for his desire to alter his plea to that of not guilty.”

He told the court that at the time of the offence, Zancanella believed he was entitled to the money he requested and did not believe the message was menacing.

“There is a subjective component,” Mr Caines said. “That was one of the issues that was going to be raised at trial.”

Kael London, for the Crown, said that fear of publication was not a sufficient reason to vacate a plea, adding that a not guilty plea could result in more publicity as the matter goes to trial.

“Trials are often reported in the media, the details of the witnesses,” he said. “Unless an order is given by a judge, that is a matter that will be publicised.”

Mrs Justice Simmons released Zancanella on bail and adjourned the case until a sentencing date can be set.

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