RACINE — Just as a former Racine man’s sentencing was beginning on Friday, he suddenly asked to withdraw his plea in a child molestation case.
James A. Houston, 42, who now lives in Chicago, is accused of forcing a then-11-year-old girl to touch him in 2013 after he reportedly smuggled the girl and her brother into the group home where he was working.
As his sentencing was underway Friday afternoon, he asked to take back his plea. Racine County Circuit Judge Faye Flancher set a new trial date for Houston — May 3. She also scheduled a hearing for Wednesday about whether she will grant his request to withdraw his plea.
Houston remains free on a $10,000 cash bond, according to court records.
The last-second move on Friday was reminiscent of another last-second change in Houston’s case.
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A line of jurors snaked through the hallways on Jan. 20 as Houston was slated to go on trial, but he then opted to ink a plea deal with prosecutors instead. He pleaded no contest to a downgraded charge of third-degree sexual assault of a child. Houston initially was charged with a weightier felony: first-degree child sexual assault.
Prosecutors charged Houston in June 2013 after the girl, whom he knew, told Racine police that Houston was lying on a couch with her and forced her to fondle him, according to his criminal complaint. The girl said Houston asked her to go with him to work at his third-shift job at a Racine group home on May 28, 2013.
Houston brought her brother along, as well, for his 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, reportedly smuggling each of them into the house individually, the complaint states.
The girl and her brother had been asleep on a couch before Houston allegedly told the boy to sleep on a couch in another room, the complaint states. Houston then was left alone with the girl.