A Gary man's request to withdraw his guilty pleas to two counts of murder just three days before he was sentenced to 58 years in prison appropriately was denied, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

Harrington J. Westbrook, 22, claimed he was coerced into pleading guilty for his role as gunman in the April 2, 2016, execution-style slayings of Amahn J. Muldrow, 37, and Dawn S. Williams, 32, on the streets of Gary.

According to court records, Westbrook feared his court-appointed attorney was not handling his case properly, so he pleaded guilty to avoid going to trial with a lawyer who would not have "fought for him."

In its 3-0 ruling, the appeals court rejected Westbrook's contention, in part because Westbrook told the judge during his plea hearing that he was satisfied with his lawyer's representation and affirmed that his guilty pleas were voluntary.

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Moreover, the court said Westbrook did not show that his attorney did anything to overcome Westbrook's free will. It noted that Westbrook could not identify any threat, false statement or physical force that compelled him to plead guilty.

"Having failed in his burden of proof, Westbrook has not demonstrated that the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion for withdrawal of the guilty pleas," the appeals court said.

The court also rejected Westbrook's request to reduce his sentence to 45 years in the Department of Correction.

It said Westbrook already received a significantly shorter prison term by pleading guilty and ruled that 58 years is not unreasonable given the "heinous" nature of his crimes.

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Financial Affairs Reporter

Dan has reported on Indiana state government for The Times since 2009. He also covers casinos, campaigns and corruption.