Judge's Mistake Leads To Overturned Conviction In Double Homicide


The Madison County Prosecutor calls Timothy Ackley one of the most callous defendants he's ever seen.

But 16 months after the victims' families watched him sentenced and locked away, they've learned they'll have to do it all over again.

State Highway Patrol cruiser video showed Timothy Ackley in April of 2012, moments after prosecutors say his truck ran over the motorcycle carrying Mark and JoAnn Williams.

"Did they get the dead bodies next to my truck?" he asked the Trooper, laughing. “I’m going to jail."

Seven months later, Ackley cried in court after pleading guilty to two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide.  "I do understand the amount of hatred you have towards me,” he told the families of the victims. “I hate myself for the callous actions even more."

Madison County Judge Robert Nichols sentenced Ackley to the maximum possible, 16 years in prison.

"It was like a closure, you know, for that part of it," said Ann Neal, JoAnn Williams’ mother. "It was hard, but we were very relieved."

Any relief or closure vanished yesterday with a phone call from the prosecutor's office.

"What happened that morning is that we were prepared to go to trial,” said Madison County Prosecutor Steve Pronai. “And right at the last moment, Mr. Ackley decided to plead guilty, and so he kind of caught everybody off guard and off balance, and we proceeded from there."

In that proceeding, an Appeals Court now says Judge Nichols made a significant mistake.

The 12th Circuit Court of Appeals writes:

"...the trial court indicated that while there was a presumption of a prison sentence, such sentence was not mandatory and that Ackley could theoretically be placed on community control.  Therefore, at no time prior to pleading guilty was Ackley properly informed that he would face mandatory prison time."

With that, this week the Court reversed Ackley's conviction.

"Because he failed to say that, we come back to square one," said Pronai.

"This cannot be happening again,” said Neal. “We cannot. We cannot go through that kind of hell again."

But they have no choice.  Timothy Ackley will get the second chance Mark and JoAnn Williams never did.

Asked who is responsible, Pronai answered, “I guess everybody involved.  The Judge, the Prosecutor's Office, the Defense Attorney. I mean, everybody should have caught it."

"It's like starting all over again,” said Neal. “And how do you do that?  I'm not sure."

The matter is further complicated by the fact that Judge Nichols has since retired, and was replaced by Eamon Costello, the Assistant Prosecutor who handled Ackley's case.  That means a new judge will have to be found to handle any future proceedings.

Ackley will likely be brought back to Madison County for a bond hearing, and plans for a new trial could be decided from there.

10TV was not able to reach Judge Nichols for comment.