By MIKE CORN
A Holcomb man pleaded no contest Friday in Ellis County District Court to reduced charges stemming from the sexual assault of two women.
Friday's hearing originally was scheduled by District Judge Preston Pratt, Oberlin, to hear a series of pre-trial motions in the case against Leaton R. McClelland, 21.
"It's my understanding counsel has worked out a plea agreement," Pratt said at the outset of the hearing.
In the agreement, McClelland agreed to plead no contest to felony charges of reckless aggravated battery and aggravated battery.
He originally had been charged with rape, aggravated burglary and attempted aggravated sexual battery. The burglary charge was dismissed in exchange for the pleas.
The charges stem from a March 3 incident at a residence in the 400 block of West Fifth. Two women -- 17 and 20 years old -- said they had been sexually assaulted during the early morning hours.
When Pratt asked McClelland how he was pleading, the former Fort Hays State University student said "no contest, your honor" on both counts. On the reckless aggravated battery charge, Pratt said the possible sentence can range from 31 to 136 months in prison, depending on McClelland's criminal history.
The aggravated battery charge can result in 11 to 34 months in prison, Pratt said.
Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees told Pratt the plea is actually an Alford plea, essentially entering a plea while still maintaining innocence.
In Friday's hearing, Pratt suggested the plea was being made to avoid the possibility of being convicted of the more serious charge of rape.
Defense attorney Paul Oller said the plea was being made as well to avoid the possibility of a lesser charge of aggravated sexual battery.
While the plea agreement reduced the severity of the charges pending against McClelland, it didn't address the possibility of sentencing.
"The state will be arguing for some prison time," Drees said.
To do that, victims of the incident are expected to testify, along with Hays Police detective Dave Bunger, who investigated the incident.
Oller said he's in the middle of having a number of evaluations completed, and said there is a host of people willing to testify on McClelland's behalf.
Sentencing tentatively has been scheduled for April 3.