Aram Barak Catron

An area man charged with murder was set to go to trial this week, but changed his mind for a third time and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Aram Catron had appeared in Cherokee County District Court last week before District Judge Doug Kirkley for his sentencing on a plea to manslaughter. Catron waived a jury trial and would have been sentenced to 25 years and credited for time served. However, against the advice of his attorney, he refused to enter the plea and planned stand trial this week before the judge.

District Attorney Jack Thorp said Catron had lost his right to a jury trial when he waived it last week.

"By refusing to plea today, he lost his right to a jury and will stand trial in front of Judge Kirkley next week for murder in the first degree," said Thorp. "His presumption of innocence remains up until and if the state proves its case by proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Thorp said Catron plead to manslaughter and was sentenced 26 years to the Department of Corrections. He said a victims impact statement was not read at this time by the victim's husband.

Catron, 36, of Kansas, Oklahoma, allegedly fled law enforcement officers following a shoplifting incident at Walmart in January 2018. He is accused of driving his truck at a high rate of speed through Tahlequah streets and plowing into another vehicle, driven by Malinda Jane Phillips, 36, Park Hill. Phillips died from her injuries.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol traffic homicide investigator Robert Francis said during the preliminary hearing that based on the evidence, Catron appeared to have been traveling at 80 mph at the time of impact. Catron was critically injured in the collision, but checked out of a Tulsa hospital before the probe was completed and charges were brought. He was later taken into custody in McDonald County, Missouri.

Last week, Catron's attorney, Brandi Robertson, advised her client to take the plea to manslaughter, but he refused.

"You understand that you're facing life without the possibility of parole, and that the state's asking for murder in the first degree," said Robertson. "And you've waived a jury trial and you cannot have a jury. I'm advising you on the record not to do this."

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