A last-minute motion hearing was scheduled in the case against Zachery Keesee after the defense team said it was unfair for prosecutors to amend a capital murder charge to an accomplice charge so close to trial.
Defense attorney Charles D. Hancock argued Thursday that he believed “it did change the nature” of his client’s case when prosecutors moved to amend the capital murder charge previously filed against Keesee to an accomplice to capital murder charge. Both charges are Class Y felonies.
“For the State to now present a different theory violates due process and is also prohibited by the doctrine of judicial estoppel,” Hancock wrote in a request for a motion in lemine. “The amendment was also improper because it changed the nature of the charge and at this stage of the proceeding it unfairly surprises Keesee.”
Circuit Judge Charles “Ed” Clawson said that prosecutors have the legal right to add and amend charges in criminal cases and was not in the wrong for filing a different charge in Keesee’s case.
During the brief hearing Thursday afternoon, senior deputy prosecutor John Hout argued against Hancock’s claims and said he had not changed the nature of the murder case. While the defense team said it was unjust to offer an inconsistent theory by amending the charge, Hout said the nature of the case remained the same – that Keesee reportedly was involved in a drug deal that resulted in the shooting death of 48-year-old Leonel Panduro.
Keesee, 27, was charged alongside two others – Andrew John Morstain and Christopher Bynum – for his alleged involvement in the Wisconsin man’s murder. Panduro was shot to death on May 8, 2018, in Room 106 at the Days Inn motel on Oak Street in Conway.
Keesee’s mother, Sherri Keesee, also faces a felony hindering apprehension or prosecution charge following the shooting.
According to a statement Bynum made the day he pleaded guilty, Sherri, who is an engineering instructor at Maumelle High School, picked up the murder suspects after they shot Panduro.
“Early at the morning of May, 8, 2018, me and Zachery Keesee arrived to the Conway Days Inn and at his request, I entered the hotel with Andrew Morstain and purposefully caused the death of Leonell Panduro and later on that afternoon from that morning, Sherri Keesee picked us up,” he said.
Sherri was charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution for reportedly lying to police about her son’s whereabouts and whether she’d had contact with him follow- ing the apparent shoot- ing.
With Zachery’s week-long jury trial set to begin on March 2, Clawson said he wanted to set another motion hearing to give the defense a chance to gather witnesses and argue against the recently-filed accomplice charge.
“It’s appropriate the defense be able to make a record,” he said.
A motion hearing in the matter will be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday.