In a surprising turn of events in court Thursday, the man accused of beating his 10-year-old son to death pleaded guilty to 6 of the 14 charges against him, but the judge rejected the plea after Terry Sturgis admitted he was not mentally prepared to move forward with the plea deal.
Before the hearing began, Sturgis met with privately with his attorney for about an hour Thursday afternoon and looked over the plea agreement reached with the prosecutor’s office. When court began, the judge asked Sturgis if he was feeling well enough to move forward.
He told her he was “OK.”
While his attorney, Jeff Kimmell, read through the plea agreement and Sturgis admitted to beating 10-year-old Tramelle and his older brother with what prosecuting attorneys described as a “two or three-foot-long wooden dowel rod with duct tape on both ends” last November as a form of punishment.
The alleged incidents happened in the basement of his mother’s home on West Washington Street in South Bend.
Sturgis told the judge, “I hit him [Tramelle] several times, yes.”
He also said in court that he burned and injured Tramelle and another one of his children with a hot clothing iron.
In addition, Sturgis said he performed CPR on his son the night Tramelle died, then realized it was too late.
When Kimmell began describing Tramelle’s autopsy, saying Tramelle suffered from a cracked skull among other injuries, Judge Jane Woodward Miller noticed Sturgis becoming emotional and asked him if he was mentally prepared to move forward with the plea deal and he replied “No.”
Sturgis then said “I’m not saying I’m not guilty of the things I did, but the way it’s being presented makes it hard for me.”
Judge Miller then rejected the plea agreement.
“I don’t know how I can accept a guilty plea from someone who doesn’t think he’s guilty,” she said.
Later, Sturgis said “I don’t wanna waste nobody’s time or nothing, but I didn’t intentionally kill my son.”
One reason he said he wanted to accept the plea deal is so his children would not have to testify in court but it now appears they will, in fact, testify.
Jury selection for Sturgis’ trial is expected to begin Monday afternoon.
The prosecuting attorney also presented a witness list to the judge Thursday.
In all, 22 people are listed, including several police officers, homicide detectives and one South Bend Fire Department paramedic. The witness list also includes six doctors – including the three who performed the psychiatric evaluation against Sturgis when he first entered an insanity plea earlier this year. That plea was later withdrawn when Kimmell said the evaluations showed Sturgis was not suffering from dementia the night he allegedly killed Tramelle.
The final section of witnesses on the list appear to be civilians – including two of Tramelle’s siblings Sturgis is also accused of beating the same night Tramelle died.