Erin Vickers, now 27, was 20 when she was arrested at her R-Section home in Palm Coast. She was 23 when a jury found her guilty of participating in the rape of “my victim, A.V.,” as she described her then-1-year-old daughter in a subsequent letter to a judge, and sentenced to life in prison.
She was back this morning at the Flagler County courthouse for the first time since her 2017 sentence in the latest in a series of appeals. She appealed her sentence to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal and lost. She appealed directly to Circuit Court Judge Terence Perkins, citing a 20-year course for sex offenders she said “will help me to exercise better judgment in the future.” It was not the sort of appeal the judge could act on. She then appealed more formally through a motion, making the only charge that convicts out of options make: that she received ineffective counsel from Garry Wood, her attorney.
Vickers is an inmate at the Florida Women’s Reception center, a state prison in Ocala. She was transported back to the Flagler County jail on Dec. 1, at least enabling her to see family for a few days locally before she is transported back. The hearing itself was a three-hour exercise that belabored the same narrow, technical grounds of her appeal and avoided rehashes of the single-most lurid criminal case (not involving a murder) in recent memory in Flagler. The outcome was all but foretold. Absent an unexpected argument from Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally, or the improbable revelation of a new fact, of new evidence (there were none), the motion appeared without merit, and Perkins ruled accordingly: he denied it.
Vickers had initially faced 49 charges, all felonies, several of them capital felonies, involving sexual assault (or rape), the transmission or the promotion of a sexual performance by a minor. The acts involved assaults she would record on video and transmit to her then-boyfriend, Paul Dykes, who is himself serving life in prison on parallel charges. Vickers, trial testimony showed, carried out the assaults to please and gratify Dykes. He was sentenced around the same time. Vickers was found guilty by a jury on some of the charges then pleaded guilty to others in an agreement that led the state to drop some 35 of the charges. The plea agreement was explicit: Vickers would be sentenced to life in prison. That’s the document she had signed.
The only reason she was entering the plea was on the possibility that she could get her trial conviction overturned, in which case all her guilty pleas on remaining charges would also be voided. The state was confident that the conviction would not be overturned.
Circuit Court Judge Dennis Craig asked her about the plea at the time, at a January 26, 2018 hearing, to make sure she knew what she was pleading to. She left no doubt.
Wood himself had described the sentence in open court, in front of Vickers: “In the agreement she is going to be sentenced to life in prison on the capital sexual battery charge and concurrent sentences on the other charges,” he told Craig that day nearly four years ago. She could withdraw her plea only if she could win an appeal, which she did not. (Wood did ask for a new trial on the two appealable counts at the time, and was denied. Wood today was appearing by zoom.)
“Have you been promised anything other than what’s in this plea agreement that you signed?” Craig had asked Vickers. “No,” Vickers replied.
“And you did take sufficient time to read it and go over it with Mr. Wood prior to agreeing to the plea, correct?” the judge asked her.
“Yes,” she said.
Craig also asked: “Are you satisfied with the representation Mr. Wood gave you?”
“Yes,” Vickers said. (In contrast with her appearances at the time, Vickers today was more polite with the judge, the prosecution and the defense, always adding a “sir” or a “ma’am” to her answers.)
But today, Vickers was arguing that Wood had misled her, that he had convinced her that she would be pleading to 30 years in prison, no more, and that he had failed to summon three psychologists in her defense, though he was required to summon only one, in order to show that she was lacking in certain intellectual and psychological capacities, though there were no grounds for an insanity defense.
“She was under the impression that she was going to get 30 years on everything,” Nunnally said.
In fact, as the prosecution and Wood said today–the case was handled by Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark today–the defense had repeatedly tried to get a lower sentence in a plea agreement in 2017. The State Attorney’s Office repeatedly refused. That’s why the defense went to trial.
Even if somehow Wood had misled her about the plea agreement, Perkins today noted that she had already been convicted by a jury on a capital felony, making a life sentence mandatory regardless: a judge has no discretion in the matter.
“She had gone to trial on a similar charge, she had been convicted at trial, sentenced to life as the mandatory sentence,” he said. “So where’s the evidence from which I can assume, or I can conclude, that she was prejudiced, that is, a different result would have occurred?”
“There seems to be some conflict or maybe confusion, that when she entered into this agreement, she really thought that everything was going to be 30 years,” Nunnally said. “So her expectation, that would be the prejudice.” But it wasn’t enough: just because a defendant now says, against all evidence in the record, that she was under a different sort of impression or expectation at the time, doesn’t mean she’d been misled.
“Ms. Vickers, Mr. Wood brought that document out to the jail and went over it with you, correct?” Clark asked Vickers. “Yes, ma’am,” Vickers replied. “And you read through that document. And then you signed that document after you’d read through the document. And it’s the same document we’ve seen here that’s in the court file.” Vickers agreed.
“And then it clearly outlined in that plea, it was a capital. Sexual. Battery, which was a life sentence,” Clark said, stressing and stopping at each of the the three key words for emphasis.”
“Yes,” Vickers said, this time without honorific.
“OK. No further questions,” Clark said.
The judge had no reason to delay his ruling.
Vickers has long since the trial lost her parental rights. Her daughter has been adopted, and because of her age at the time of the assaults, will, unlike her biological mother, have no memory of them.