Appeals panel orders new hearing for drug convict

LITTLE ROCK (Arkansas News Bureau) -- A federal appeals panel Wednesday ordered a new hearing in the case of an Arkansas man who argued on appeal that his lawyer had a conflict of interest in representing both him and his girlfriend in a drug case.

The panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis reversed a district judge's decision to reject a claim of ineffective counsel by Terry Gale Plunk, who was sentenced to 72 years in prison on multiple felony convictions, including two counts of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

Plunk and his girlfriend, Deborah Devries, pleaded guilty after their attorney reached a negotiated plea deal with prosecutors.

In a 17-page ruling written by Judge Lavenski Smith of Little Rock, the appeal's panel said the district judge erred "in finding that 'negotiations (of a package plea deal) did not adversely affect (Plunk's) defense."

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