A judge has tossed a plea deal for a Delaware County man accused of involuntary manslaughter, potentially setting the stage for a February trial.
Max J. Fenton, 31, of Greeley, is accused of illegally firing a homemade cannon in July 2016 at his home. The breach on the device failed, discharging shrapnel that fatally injured 55-year-old Lori L. Heim, of Edgewood.
In August, Fenton filed a written guilty plea in Iowa District Court of Delaware County to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. As part of a plea deal, the charge would be reduced from a felony to an aggravated misdemeanor, and a pair of fireworks-related charges would be dropped.
Fenton would have faced up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $6,250, according to court documents.
During a hearing scheduled for last week, a judge was set to consider whether to accept that guilty plea and, if so, sentence Fenton.
But that hearing was postponed, and Iowa District Court Judge Michael Shubatt filed an order rejecting the plea deal, stating that “there did not appear to be a factual basis for the proposed new charge.”
“In reviewing the proposed plea prior to the hearing, the court noted that the plea was to a new charge that was not a lesser-included charge of the charge on the trial information in (the case),” Shubatt wrote in his order.
Shubatt also set a firm trial date of Feb. 5.
“Given the age of this case and the court’s prior admonitions about the pace at which it has proceeded, there will be no continuances barring extraordinary circumstances,” Shubatt wrote.
If convicted on the felony charge, Fenton would face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Messages seeking comment for this story were not returned by County Attorney John Bernau and Fenton’s attorney, Philip Jensen.
Fenton also faces a civil suit from Heim’s daughter, Amy Vermie. She seeks damages for pain and suffering, loss of accumulation to Heim’s estate, interest on premature burial costs and loss of parental support.
That case is tentatively set for an April 1 trial in Iowa District Court for Delaware County.