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For the week of August 1 - 7, 2001


Liebl pleads guilty 
to assault

Change of plea for bike path attack

Express Staff Writer

Without actually admitting he had committed the crime, 18-year-old Eric Liebl pleaded guilty to felony aggravated assault Monday for an April 16 attack on a woman riding on the bike path north of Hailey. Sentencing was set for Sept. 10.

Lieblís change of plea was made in exchange for a recommendation by the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorneyís Office that the court drop a penalty enhancement for the use of a deadly weapon in the assault, as well as a misdemeanor battery charge.

Eric Liebl 

The recommendation includes a fixed five-year prison term. With the deadly weapon enhancement, Liebl would face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Fifth District Judge James May will not be bound by the agreement when imposing a sentence.

A former Arizona resident who had been living at Lionís Park in Hailey, Liebl was accused of knocking a 47-year-old Ketchum woman off her bike and trying to drag her into the woods, brandishing a knife and telling her, "Iím going to kill you."

Liebl has been in Blaine County Jail, in lieu of a $100,000 bond, since his arrest almost immediately after the assault.

During Mondayís hearing, defense attorney Jennifer Haemmerle told May that her clientís guilty plea was being entered as an "Alford" plea. The term came into being following a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case, North Carolina v. Alford, in which a defendant claimed innocence but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder rather than risk a death sentence from a first-degree murder trial.

"Mr. Liebl has consistently maintained he is innocent of the crime," Haemmerle said.

However, she noted that the stateís case "consists of a lot of pieces of evidence that, taken together, appear substantial." She contended that much of the circumstantial evidence could have been rebutted at trial, but said her client did not want to risk being convicted under the deadly-weapon penalty enhancement.

May asked Liebl if he understood that "by entering a plea of guilty, you are admitting that youíre guilty of an aggravated assault."

Liebl said he did.

The evidence against Liebl includes a witnessís description of a man with Lieblís appearance in the vicinity of the crime, blood on Lieblís coat matching the victimís DNA profile and footprintís at the scene matching Lieblís sneakers. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Marilyn Paul told the court that the location of blood on Lieblís coat sleeve "is entirely consistent with [the victimís] account of the struggle."

However, the victim has acknowledged she did not get a good look at her attackerís face and no knife has been found. Haemmerle also pointed out that DNA evidence cannot make a match to a specific person.

Haemmerle requested that the court retain jurisdiction of the case to give Liebl the opportunity to acquire "the tools he needs to be more successful in society." She said her client has been on his own since the age of 13 and has not acquired normal social skills.

"As he looks at turning 19 and proceeding into adulthood, he is still very much a child," she said.

Lieblís mother, grandmother and brother attended Mondayís court hearing. His mother, Diane Liebl, declined to answer a reporterís question about her sonís whereabouts during his youth.

Liebl told the court he had obtained his General Education Diploma while in juvenile detention in Arizona.

In response to Mayís questions, Liebl acknowledged having been "a substantial user" of alcohol and drugs. May ordered a pre-sentencing evaluation to determine whether Liebl would need substance-abuse treatment.

May denied a request by Haemmerle that her clientís bond be reduced so he could be with his family pending sentencing. Concurrent with his detention while awaiting trial on the aggravated assault charge, Liebl has been serving a four-and-a-half-month sentence for a conviction in May on a misdemeanor charge of malicious injury to property. He damaged a snowmobile after taking it from a Bellevue house in December.

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.