What is the Alford Plea?

What is the Alford Plea?A 24-year-old former Virginia Tech coed entered an Alford plea in February 2015 and was sentenced on June 1, 2015 for 1st Degree Murder and Transporting and Concealing a Body due to the 2014 death of fellow student Samanata Shrestha.

An Alford plea is a criminal defendant’s acknowledgement that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to persuade a judge or jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, even though the defendant insists that he/she is innocent and does not admit to committing the criminal act. The U. S. Supreme Court established this type of plea in a 1970 case called North Carolina v. Henry Alford.

The Alford plea is frequently used when a defendant hopes for an easier punishment than he/she might otherwise receive if he/she pleaded guilty or was found guilty after trial. All but the 3 states of Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey allow some form of Alford plea.

Jessica Michelle Ewing maintained that she lacked the criminal intent to murder Samanata Shrestha. However, Ewing admitted that she did kill Shrestha during a lesbian-date-gone-ballistic and that the prosecution had sufficient evidence to convince the judge or jury that Ewing was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing 1st Degree Murder and of Transporting and Concealing Shrestha’s corpse.

During the 8 hour sentencing hearing, Ewing also introduced factors she deemed mitigating: she was molested as an adolescent; she was raped at a Virginia Tech party in 2013; she had no criminal history; she willingly made admissions to the Court against her interests, etc.

Ewing hoped to receive the minimum sentence of 20 years on the 1st Degree Murder conviction, given her Alford plea and mitigating circumstances. The Prosecutor pressed for a life sentence. The judge gave Ewing 80 years for 1st Degree Murder and 5 years for Transporting and Concealing a Body; however, after serving 45 years, the balance of her sentence will be suspended and she will be on probation for 20 years after her prison release.

Ewing’s defense attorney maintains that the circumstances warranted a lighter sentence. I expect Ewing to appeal the sentence.

By Kathy Catanzarite

Source: Kathy Catanzarite – Staff Writer

Note from This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author,, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.