Norwalk prosecutors are offering Tanya McDowell a six-year prison sentence in return for guilty pleas on both drug-selling charges and on the charge she stole educational services from Norwalk Public Schools.
Any further plea agreements in Bridgeport, where McDowell is also facing drug-selling charges after undercover Norwalk police conducted a sting operation with her there, would mean additional time in prison, under state sentencing rules, according to Assistant State's Attorney Tiffany Lockshier.
McDowell, through her lawyer, Darnell Crosland of Stamford, is having none of it—or at least not the part involving a guilty plea on the education-stealing charge.
McDowell and Crossland have maintained that she was homeless at the time she enrolled her child in Brookside Elementary School. Norwalk police and prosecutors say McDowell wasn't homeless at all.
A federal law guarantees homeless children, including those who later have insecure homes as guests of others, a right to an education in a municipality where they have strong ties. School officials have said they don't want McDowell prosecuted.
Instead, Crosland proposes that the entire case be moved to state Superior Court in Bridgeport, where he says Judge Frank A. Iannotti is willing to reach a plea bargain—over the heads of prosecutors.
"Judge Iannotti has indicated unequivocally he is willing to accept the [entire] case," Crosland told Judge Bruce P. Hudock in state Superior Court in Norwalk on Friday.
Crosland suggested McDowell would accept some prison time without having to plead guilty to the larceny charge that she stole an education. The lawyer said he is trying to reach a agreement in which a court "would accept nolo [contendere] pleas on the larceny and open pleas on the drug files."
Nolo contendere pleas mean McDowell would not contest the charges but would not admit guilt. An open plea is an agreement to simply allow a judge to decide a sentence without contesting the judge's decision on a sentence.
In discussions with Iannatti, Crosland said, "we're looking at a number that's less than the state's offer. He made that unequivocally clear, and Attorney [Michael] DeJoseph [the assistant state's attorney handling the Bridgeport case] is aware of that."
Lockshier told Hudock that the state's attorney in Bridgeport, John C. Smriga, did not want to accept the entire case. For that reason, she objected to Crosland's motion to have Hudock accept the open pleas and then transfer the case to Bridgeport for sentencing.
Hudock has previously rejected a change-of-venue motion from Crosland to transfer the case to Bridgeport. Hudock has said that motion should wait until just before trial. Crosland's new motion would remove that objection by eliminating the trial.
Hudock set Nov. 15 for McDowell's next court date in Norwalk. He said at that time he expected to have more information on whether the case can be moved to Bridgeport.