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Convicted sex offender withdrawls guilty plea

Renatta Signorini
| Friday, July 11, 2008

Joseph Allen Willison, 29, withdrew a guilty plea Thursday in Armstrong County Court to a charge of failing to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law for the second time following a 2005 sex-related crime in Allegheny County.

Willison, whose last listed address is 107 Lowell St., Vandergrift (Westmoreland County), mistakenly pleaded guilty to the charge in June as a first-degree felony. The correct grade is a second-degree felony.

Willison was arrested last year after police found him living at 131 Booth Road, Gilpin Township. Megan's Law requires sex offenders to let law enforcement know within 48 hours of an address change.

Prosecutors said at the time of Willison's plea that the charge should be graded as a first-degree felony because it was his second conviction for the crime. Defense counsel James Wray said in court yesterday that the count should be a second-degree felony because Willison is only required to register as a sex offender for 10 years, not his entire life.

A presentence investigation corroborated Wray's claim.

Judge James Panchik offered to enter an order changing Willison's plea to a second-degree felony and proceed with sentencing, but the defendant declined and withdrew his guilty plea.

Willison initially was convicted in Allegheny County for a sex-related crime against children in 2005. He was sentenced in 2006 in Westmoreland County for failing to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.

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