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Sen. Craig to ask judge for a second chance on guilty plea
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    MINNEAPOLIS — Sen. Larry Craig said he hopes that his guilty plea in an airport sex sting will be rescinded by a court in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
    The first step in the process of erasing that plea, however, has nothing to do with whether an undercover policeman misunderstood Craig’s actions in a bathroom stall at the Minneapolis airport. Instead, it’s all about whether Craig’s attorneys can convince Judge Charles Porter that the Idaho senator’s plea was a mistake.
    ‘‘He’s already gotten lots of justice and fairness,’’ said Mary Jane Morrison, a professor in criminal law at Hamline University. ‘‘A court will view this as taking not just a second bite at the apple, but a fourth and fifth bite. Because he had the right to refuse to plead in the first place, and put the state to its proof. He had the right to have an attorney help him figure out what was in his best interest.’’
    Craig did not travel to Minnesota for the hearing. Stopping briefly to speak to reporters as he left his home in Washington early Wednesday, Craig said he hoped the judge would ‘‘allow me to prove my innocence.’’
    Craig’s attorney, Billy Martin, declined comment as he entered the courthouse in suburban Edina.
    Media coverage was heavy, with about a dozen TV cameras and a media tent set up in the courthouse parking lot. Craig had at least two supporters, men who dressed up as the senator and the airport police sergeant who arrested him.
    ‘‘We’re protesting the fact that a man has been convicted of a crime that he didn’t commit,’’ said Jason Gabbert, 38, of Apple Valley. Gabbert, dressed as the policeman, held a sign that said, ‘‘Next time pee, don’t plea!’’
    Craig has said his foot-tapping, hand gestures, and looks into a bathroom stall were misconstrued by the police officer conducting a sting for bathroom sex at the airport. Craig’s attorneys wrote that he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct because he feared his June 11 arrest would trigger a story by an Idaho newspaper that had been investigating his sexual orientation. Craig has denied that he is gay.
    Craig announced that he intends to resign from the Senate on Sept. 30, but a spokesman has said there is a slight chance he may keep his seat if he can withdraw his plea.
    Craig’s attorneys are trying to prove that letting the senator’s plea stand would be a ‘‘manifest injustice.’’ The term isn’t defined in the law, but is generally left up to judges to determine on a case-by-case basis, legal experts said. If the plea is withdrawn, prosecutors could refile charges.
    Craig’s case should be reopened in part because he never appeared in court before pleading guilty, his attorneys argued.
    In plea bargains in open court, judges walk the defendant through testimony about precisely which actions violated the law. Craig mailed in a written plea agreement that admitted disorderly conduct, but the agreement did not describe exactly what he did that was illegal. Craig’s attorneys argued that a judge’s inquiries would have prevented Craig from pleading guilty because it would have become clear that he hadn’t done anything illegal.
    Minneapolis defense attorney Joe Friedberg said that argument is a lot better than the one that Craig was panicked into a guilty plea.
    ‘‘The only shot he’s got is if the judge determines that there’s no factual basis for the plea,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think that a factual basis is set forth in that plea, and I think that it should be voided. None of his stress ... makes any difference.’’
    Morrison said it’s not uncommon for judges to demand less detail in misdemeanor pleas.
    ‘‘They’re pretty careful on felony (cases), and they’re not so careful on misdemeanors,’’ she said.
    Indeed, prosecutor Christopher Renz argued in court papers that thousands of guilty pleas are entered the same way.
    If Porter refuses to allow Craig to withdraw his guilty plea, the senator can take it to the state’s Court of Appeals, a process that likely would take several months. Oral arguments before the court are currently being scheduled about three months out, spokesman John Kostouros said.
    Minnesota’s appellate courts set an extremely high standard for withdrawing pleas, requiring defendants to prove that the district court abused its discretion, said Peter Knapp, a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.
    ‘‘Appellate courts like these decisions to rest with the district court, and they are unlikely to disturb them on appeal,’’ Knapp said. ‘‘The road only gets tougher from here on in.’’
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    Associated Press writers Amy Forliti and Martiga Lohn contributed to this report.
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    On the Net:
    Craig legal documents: http://www.mncourts.gov/district/4/?page1981

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