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November 16, 2012

Judge's absence delays Jamel Bonilla guilty plea

SALEM, Mass. — Due to a scheduling issue, the son of Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla did not plead guilty yesterday to armed robbery and illegal firearms charges connected to a 2010 drug deal that fell apart.

It was anticipated that Jamel Bonilla, 19, would plead guilty in Salem Superior Court, but Judge John Lu, who has presided over the case and approved the undisclosed plea arrangement, was not available yesterday.

Bonilla, who arrived at court with a large group of family and friends but not his father, and his two co-defendants, are now due back in court on Dec. 18. Bonilla is expected to enter a guilty plea and be sentenced at that time.

His attorney Alex Cain has declined to discuss the details of the plea arrangement.

Jamel Bonilla is charged with two counts of armed robbery, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail, and illegal possession of a firearm, which is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 18 months in Middleton Jail or 2 1/2 years in state prison. Bonilla was carrying a silver handgun on Oct. 21, 2010 when he and two others tried to rob two men on Caulkins Court in Lawrence, prosecutors said.

The incident was allegedly a drug deal that fell apart. Two victims agreed to pay $3,000 for 200 Percocet prescription pills, police said.

Lu previously set a Feb. 4 trial date in the case should the plea agreement fail. Attorneys for Bonilla’s co-defendants, Jonathan Vargas, 24, and Joseph Rodriguez, 20, also from Lawrence, have not yet indicated if their clients would plead guilty or go to trial.

Rodriguez and Vargas are also charged with two counts of armed robbery. Vargas is also charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and carrying an illegal firearm without a license.

A special prosecutor, Timothy Shyne from Plymouth County, was brought in to handle the cases because it involves the son of Essex County police official.

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