Days after a Riverbank woman pleaded no contest to assaulting her estranged husband by leaving a soda can of wasps in his car, two former girlfriends of alleged victim Paul Nellany came forward with tips meant to aid estranged wife Angela Nellany.
One claims that an Oakdale man conspired with Paul Nellany to make up a wasp story that sent Angela Nellany to jail 15 months ago.
The other claims she was assaulted by Paul Nellany, something that Angela Nellany might have pointed to if she had taken her case to trial and asserted a battered woman's defense.
As a result, the middle-aged mother of two, who was initially charged with attempted murder and solicitation to murder, wants to back out of a plea deal that calls for a two-year prison sentence. A judge is expected to hear her arguments this morning in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
"My plea was not entered voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently," Angela Nellany, 51, said in a declaration filed with the court.
Defense attorney Martin Baker said he heard from Debbie Fannon and Lisa Villa, both of Modesto, a few days after his client accepted a plea deal that would result in another six months behind bars.
The resolution was a far cry from the stiff charges the district attorney's office filed in February 2007, when Angela Nellany was accused of putting a can of wasps in her estranged husband's truck, knowing he is deathly allergic, then hiring an 18-year-old would-be hit man to finish the job.
But Angela Nellany thinks things might have gone differently had she been able to call her husband's former lovers to the witness stand. So her attorney has filed a motion to withdraw the plea.
Angela Nellany, who would have been sent to prison to complete her sentence, remains in jail as arguments ensue. Paul Nellany, who has filed for divorce, could not be reached for comment.
During a preliminary hearing a year ago, witnesses said the couple's volatile relationship came to a head Super Bowl Sunday when a would-be hit man came to the Nellany home on River Cove Drive to warn the husband that his estranged wife wanted him dead.
The Nellanys had split up after 20 years of marriage and were fighting over the custody of two children.
Mutual friends told the court that Angela Nellany made lots of angry remarks about her cheating husband and even asked for help retrieving a wasp nest she spotted near the roof of a friends' home.
And Anthony Hall told the court that he promised to kill Paul Nellany for $600, egging on a distraught woman by taking $300 as a down payment.
But Hall was not able to get Angela Nellany to talk about the alleged plot during a recorded telephone call placed from the Sheriff's Department. And he lived in a trailer on Paul Nellany's property for a few weeks after he told his story to the authorities.
Both sides acknowledged weaknesses in their cases when Angela Nellany took the plea deal in February: 12 jurors could have found her guilty of attempted murder, sending her to prison for seven years to life, or they could have concluded that the wasp incident was just a family dispute gone awry.
Whether testimony from Paul Nellany's ex-girlfriends would have helped the defense remains an open question. A prosecutor said both women have been subpoenaed in case Judge Nancy Ashley wants to hear from them.
In a declaration filed with the court, Fannon said she dated Paul Nellany for a few weeks in late December and early January and overheard a conversation that made her suspicious of the wasp incident.
Fannon told the court that he heard friend Eric Sorenson say he perjured himself, on Paul Nellany's behalf, in an unrelated matter in federal court. Fannon said Sorenson also suggested that wasps which flew out of a grape soda can left in Paul Nellany's truck came from his house.
In a separate declaration, Villa said Paul Nellany assaulted her in December -- by throwing her on his bed, pulling her hair and grabbing her throat -- because she rejected him.
Villa told the court that she reported the incident to the Modesto police a few weeks later, because Paul Nellany continued to call and e-mail after she asked him to leave her alone.
Deputy District Attorney Shawn Barlow said he will oppose Angela Nellany's motion because she has not presented any information to show that her plea deal is out of line.
He noted that the police have no records of any report by Villa. And even if Fannon overheard a suspicious conversation, her testimony would be inadmissable hearsay, because it is not backed by an admission from Sorenson or any corroborating evidence.
"That's just a blanket accusation," Barlow said.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2338.