The 25-year-old man who pleaded no contest last month to rape and murder charges in relation to the death of a 2-year-old girl attempted to revoke his plea Friday morning in Lewis County Superior Court.
James M. Reeder asked a superior court judge to allow his case to go to trial and to disregard the so-called Alford plea deal he had made only three weeks prior. Reeder also accused his court-appointed attorney, David Arcuri, of lying and tricking him into accepting the plea bargain.
“I did not want to take the plea,” Reeder told the judge Friday, adding that he had told his attorney from the start of the case that he wanted to take the case to trial.
“I refused the plea numerous times,” he said.
He also said the day he pleaded guilty he was “groggy” from the medication he takes, and that he only “vaguely” remembered what happened during that court hearing.
Judge James Lawler denied Reeder’s request, adding that he did not believe the allegations made against Arcuri, who has worked as an attorney in Lewis County for the past 16 years.
Since police arrested Reeder for rape and murder in connection to the death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter, Koralynn Fister, the Centralia man has said very little during his multiple court appearances.
Although he pleaded guilty to homicide by abuse, two counts of rape of a child in the first degree, second-degree assault and possession of methamphetamine earlier this month, the type of plea he entered was a so-called Alford plea, which allows him to avoid admitting any guilt, but acknowledges that if the case were to go to trial, the evidence against him is substantial enough to lead to a conviction.
When he pleaded guilty early last month, Reeder appeared in court dressed in jail garb with long, unwashed hair and an unkempt beard. He cried multiple times throughout the hearing and said only a few words.
On Friday morning, however, Reeder had short hair and a closely trimmed beard. Instead of crying, Reeder was assertive, and at times argumentative, as he addressed the judge.
“I told him I did not want to take it,” Reeder said, later adding, “I would not have spent 10 months in this jail, with 23-hour lockdown, with the harassment I have dealt with, to sign guilty on these charges.”
He said the harassment, which included other inmates calling him a rapist, was The Chronicle’s fault for taking his photo and writing a story about each of his court appearances.
Multiple times on Friday Reeder attempted to interrupt the judge when he explained why he was denying Reeder’s request.
“Now it’s my turn to talk,” Lawler told him at one point during the hearing when Reeder tried to talk over him.
“This plea was made with a lot of conversation, with a lot of forethought,” Lawler told him. “You went through all of this stuff ahead of time.”
When Reeder pleaded guilty on Jan. 9, the judge asked him a series of questions about whether Reeder understood the consequences of what he was doing.
“I assumed you were answering me truthfully,” Lawler told him Friday.
Reeder alleged that his attorney tricked both him and his parents, who were present in court during Friday’s hearing, into accepting the plea bargain.
“I don’t put much stock in that allegation,” Lawler told him. “I am well aware of Mr. Arcuri, and his work, and his ethics. So frankly I don’t believe the allegation that he lied to you.”
Throughout the hearing Reeder’s attorney spent the majority of the time looking down at the table with his lips pressed tightly together. He did not look over at his client.
During his initial interviews with police, Reeder insisted that on the afternoon of the girl’s death on May 24, he found the girl facedown in the bathtub after leaving the bathroom briefly to fetch a towel.
Reeder, an unemployed tattoo artist, had moved into the house of Becky Heupel, Koralynn’s mother, 10 weeks prior to the toddler’s death. That was also the point that Reeder started dating Heupel.
Authorities alleged that once Reeder moved into her house, he convinced Heupel to divvy up the childcare responsibilities.
Police arrested Reeder on the afternoon of May 24 when he ran across the street and pounded on his neighbor’s door, shouting for them to call 911.
When his neighbors, an elderly couple, answered the door, they saw Reeder holding the girl’s limp body.
As the woman called 911, Reeder placed the toddler on the couple’s frontstep where he tried to administer CPR.
The neighbors, responding paramedics and police all said the girl was already cold to the touch.
Her small body was spotted with bruises and covered with burns, cuts and other injuries — evidence, authorities claimed, of the substantial and prolonged physical and sexual trauma the child went through before she died. Authorities would later rule the child’s death a homicide, alleging that prior to her death the child had been “systematically tortured” both physically and sexually.
During his four-and-a-half hour interrogation with Centralia police detectives on the day of his arrest, Reeder frequently referred to Koralynn as his “daughter” and “baby.” He also reportedly told police he would never hurt a child because “kids are the only thing in this world that are innocent.”
Throughout the interview, police wrote in their report, his demeanor abruptly fluctuated between being calm to being loud and angry.
“I don’t know where I went wrong with this town,” he told police the day of his arrest. “You guys think I’m some kind of monster.”
He denied multiple times that he hurt the child.
“At no time during the approximate four and half hour interview did Reeder ever show any true remorse,” one of the Centralia police detectives wrote in his police report.
When Lawler asked Reeder at the end of Friday’s hearing if he wanted to have Arcuri represent him during his sentencing hearing on March 6, Reeder paused for several seconds before he said yes, and acknowledged it did not make a difference at this point.
During the March sentencing, a Lewis County judge will decide the minimum amount of time Reeder will spend in prison, which ranges between 28 to 37 and 1/2 years.
Decades from now, when Reeder nears the end of his minimum sentence, the state Department of Corrections’ Indeterminate Sentence Review Board will determine how much additional prison time, if any, he will serve. This could result in up to life in prison.
Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said previously he will be arguing for Reeder to receive the higher end of the minimum sentencing range.