Claude Johnston was originally sentenced in 2005 by Judge Ciavarella

Last updated: September 07. 2013 12:55AM - 1287 Views
SHEENA DELAZIO sdelazio@timesleader.com

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WILKES-BARRE – Claude Johnston pleaded guilty Friday – for the second time – to a shooting at the former White House Cafe in Wilkes-Barre in 2005 that injured several people.

This time, he hopes to receive a lesser sentence.

Johnston, 38, pleaded guilty to four felony counts of aggravated assault at a hearing before Luzerne County Judge Fred Pierantoni. He had also pleaded guilty in December 2005 and then received a 24-to-72-year sentence from former judge Mark Ciavarella.

After appeals and other post-conviction hearings, based on claims his sentence was excessive and errors were made at the time of his guilty plea, Pierantoni last month allowed Johnston to withdraw his guilty plea and start over.

Since 2005, Ciavarella has been found guilty of federal corruption charges and is serving a 28-year prison sentence on allegations he accepted kickbacks from the developer of a juvenile detention center.

Johnston faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each charge when he is sentenced on Sept. 19. He’ll receive credit for the time he has already served in prison, Pierantoni said.

Pierantoni ruled in July that Johnston would be permitted to withdraw his plea because at the time of his original plea, there was no discussion of possible sentences and fines, no basis for the charges was put on the record and Johnston’s former attorney failed to raise an issue to challenge that Johnston understood the plea.

Johnston and his co-defendant, Rasha Wimms, 35, were charged after the March 2005 shooting. Police said the two men, their faces covered by bandanas, stormed into the Hazle Avenue bar and opened fire.

Police said Crystal Crawford and Steven McClean, of Wilkes-Barre and Naquan Knight, of New York, were hit. They were all treated at area hospitals and later released. The White House Cafe has since closed.

Johnston also argued Wimms received a significantly lesser sentence, 10 to 20 years.

At the time of Wimms’ sentencing, prosecutors said Johnston received the more severe sentence because none of Wimms’ bullets struck anyone and Johnston had a prior record.

Attorneys also said the shooting appeared to be related to drug trafficking.

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