Convicted pot smuggler tries to change his mind

Apr. 19—CATLETTSBURG — An Ashland man currently serving five years in prison for smuggling roughly 70 pounds of marijuana from California to Kentucky attempted to take back his guilty plea on Friday.

Anthony S. Bennallack, 55, entered a guilty plea last year to trafficking multiple pounds of weed through the mail and, in exchange, the Commonwealth offered up a five-year sentence, a sweetheart deal in comparison to the possible 20 years Bennallack faced if convicted by a jury.

On Friday, Bennallack appeared virtually from the Pike County Detention Center, accompanied by his attorney out of Frankfort.

Per the defense, Bennallack supposedly took the deal without knowing he had access to an appeal.

During Friday's evidentiary hearing, Bennallack's former public defender, Caleb Hurt, testified he had advised Bennallack throughout plea negotiations and advised his client he must waive several Constitutional rights (including the right to appeal) if he wished to accept the Commonwealth's offer.

Hurt also said he consulted with Bennallack on multiple occasions and recalled the original offer from prosecutors included a 10-year sentence before further negotiation cut the time in half.

Bennallack's attorney argued Bennallack was incorrectly advised by Hurt, as he did have access to an appeal, even after taking the plea.

However, Boyd Circuit Judge George Davis wasn't buying it, stating the only appeal could come if Bennallack was somehow not competent at the time of his plea.

After Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Conn presented court documents and transcripts of Bennallack's plea entry stating he understood he was waiving his right to an appeal, Judge Davis explained plea deals worked similarly to a contract.

Davis said both sides, the Commonwealth and Bennallack, would gain from the "contract" and lose something.

By Davis's explanation, the Commonwealth lost its original wish of a 10-year prison sentence but also gained a guilty plea and a resolution of the case.

Bennallack gained a shortened prison stay but had to "lose" his right to appeal.

"Otherwise, why have a plea deal?" Davis asked.

Davis said Bennallack gave up his right to an appeal when he took the deal, as evidenced by him signing court documents of each right waived ahead of the guilty plea.

With regards to Bennallack's current attorney seeking an appeal based on ineffectiveness of his previous attorney (Hurt), Davis said with the five-year prison sentence for smuggling nearly 70 pounds of marijuana, "Nothing his counsel did was ineffective. If anything, he should be commended," for working out the plea arrangement.

Davis added if Bennallack hadn't taken the deal and instead opted for a jury trial, Bennallack would not have "fared well" with the amount of evidence and the history of Boyd County jurors in mind.

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