King sentenced to 30 years in prison

A man who sought to have his guilty plea overturned was instead sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Tanner J. King, 23, of Fort Dodge, received the sentence Monday during a hearing in Webster County District Court.

King had pleaded guilty on Jan. 27 to aiding and abetting second-degree arson, second-degree burglary, possession of a firearm as a felon and second-degree theft in connection with a fire that destroyed Bemrich Electric and Telephone Inc. on June 21, 2013.

But on Feb. 7, King filed a motion in arrest of judgment seeking to have his guilty plea to aiding and abetting second-degree arson rescinded.

King took the stand Monday to explain that he wanted his plea rescinded because he was threatened into making it.

Under questioning from his attorney, Trevor Hook, King said he was assaulted by three unknown men in the parking lot of Community Pizza and Tap on Jan. 25, two days before he pleaded guilty.

“You felt coerced?” Hook asked his client.

“Yeah, I felt I had to plead guilty,” King said.

He also claimed that Mayor Matt Bemrich, whose family owns Bemrich Electric, was standing about 20 feet away from him when the assault happened.

Judge Kurt Wilke, of the 2nd Judicial District, denied King’s motion to rescind his pleas, citing King’s own testimony on Dec. 23, 2013, that he was intending to accept a plea agreement.

“This defendant has no credibility,” Wilke said. “The motion is denied.”

Wilke said that King lied under oath about being threatened into pleading guilty when he had willingly said he would accept the plea agreement a month before the alleged assault.

“Quite frankly, he’s a liar,” Wilke said.

During his Jan. 27 plea hearing, King admitted to being present when a fire was started at Bemrich Electric. He also admitted to stealing guns that were being kept in the business and that he and an unnamed accomplice had broken in to Bemrich Electric to commit a burglary.

Per the plea agreement King had accepted, he would have served 20 years in prison – but it was Wilke’s decision as to whether or not King would serve an additional 10 years.

Hook said he believed 20 years was all that his client needed.

“Mr. King is 23 years old and has very good family support,” Hook said. “He acknowledges the wrong he has done.”

Webster County Attorney Cori Kuhn Coleman argued for the additional sentence.

“We believe that the 30-year sentence is appropriate,” she said.

King also received a 10-year sentence for an unrelated burglary conviction. That sentence will run concurrently with King’s 30-year sentence in the arson case.

Hook said after the hearing Monday that he and his client “respect the judge’s decision.”

Bemrich said the sentence was appropriate.

“We’re happy that justice was served,” Bemrich said. “We agree with the sentence.”

Coleman declined to comment on the case since King’s co-defendant, Gregory P. White, 24, is awaiting trial. White is facing charges including first-degree arson, and his trial is scheduled for March 25.

King is also facing an escape charge stemming from a Sept. 5, 2012, incident during which investigators said King jumped off the roof of the Webster County Law Enforcement Center and fell 40 feet into the alley between Seventh and Eighth streets near First Avenue South.

King filed a lawsuit against Webster County on Sept. 14, 2012. At the time, King’s attorney, Mark Pennington, said that his client fell off the roof of the LEC and had “suicidal intent.” That lawsuit is still pending.

King’s preliminary hearing on the escape charge is scheduled for Thursday. Because of King’s lawsuit against the county, the charge will be prosecuted by the Iowa Attorney General’s office.