A Texas man so moved by the Mel Gibson film “The Passion of the Christ” that he went to police in March and confessed to killing his girlfriend pleaded not guilty to the murder Monday.
The surprise courtroom plea by Dan Leach, 21, stunned the victim’s parents, but his attorney said a guilty plea would have hindered his defense ahead of a scheduled Aug. 9 trial.
“If I entered a plea of guilty, I waive several valuable rights that I’m not prepared to do so for my client at this time,” lawyer Ralph Gonzalez told reporters outside the Fort Bend County courthouse near Houston.
He would not comment directly on whether Leach agreed with the plea, but said, “His position and my position right now are diametrically opposed in several areas and I’ve demanded that he follow my advice if he wants to keep me as his lawyer.”
A repentant Leach went to police after seeing the controversial movie about the last hours of Christ’s life to confess to the Jan. 18 murder of Ashley Nicole Wilson, 19.
Her death had been ruled a suicide, but Leach said he strangled her because she said she was pregnant and he did not want to be involved with her anymore.
An autopsy has shown Wilson was not pregnant, although her parents insist she was.
They said they had been told up until the last minute before the Monday hearing that Leach would plead guilty.
“I was in shock. I was, like, ’What did he say? Not guilty?”’ mother Renee Coulter told reporters.
“If he wants to do the right thing then he needs to plead guilty and he needs to get on with it. You know, this is just tearing us apart,” she said.