Schenectady man headed back to prison after plea in his third drug case

Thursday, January 31, 2013
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— A Schenectady man convicted a decade ago in a drug trial where the main witness went missing pleaded guilty to new drug charges Thursday and faces as much as 4 years in prison.

William Hilts, 48, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of third-degree attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance, a felony.

He admitted to trying to sell cocaine Feb. 27, 2012, on Paige Street. He had been accused of that sale and another in early March on Hulett Street, prosecutor Michael DeMatteo said.

In exchange for his plea, Hilts could receive as little as 18 months in prison. Acting Schenectady County Court Judge Richard Giardino will decide the final term at Hilts’ sentencing in April. Hilts was allowed to remain free pending sentencing.

Hilts was previously convicted in a 2003 drug case and sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison, though he was released in late 2009 and drug law reforms apparently reduced his parole time.

Prior to his trial, he had rejected plea deals that would have gotten him as little as 18 months to 3 years in prison.

The first trial, at which the main witness testified, ended with the jury deadlocked. At the retrial, though, the witness couldn’t be found, so the testimony from the first case was read to the jury. That trial ended in Hilts’ conviction.

Hilts appealed his case all the way to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. It upheld the conviction, finding no fault with the prosecution. The witness had been thoroughly cross-examined in the first trial about his own credibility, as well as other matters.

Hilts was also convicted in a 1990 drug sale, but that conviction was later overturned due to questions over the credibility of a police officer’s testimony. The Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office helped call in the FBI to investigate the officer, but no charges were ever filed.

Hilts is represented by attorney Lee Greenstein.

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