SALT LAKE CITY -- A plea deal for former TV pitchman and one-time candidate for Utah governor "Super Dell" Schanze fell apart at the last minute.
Schanze was scheduled to strike a plea bargain on Thursday in U.S. District Court, where he faces a misdemeanor charge of harassing wildlife. He is accused of chasing a barn owl in his motorized paraglider in an incident that was videotaped and uploaded to YouTube.
But standing before a federal judge, Schanze refused to accept those facts put forward by the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah.
"What isn’t true?" U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson asked Schanze.
"Pretty much all of it, but I’m willing to plead to it if we can be finished with this today," Schanze replied.
Judge Benson told Schanze he needed to admit to facts of the case in order to plead guilty.
"I need some factual basis for this. It’s pretty simple, that you used your paraglider and during that you harassed that owl. Can you tell me that? You don’t have to. We’ll go to trial. This isn’t that difficult," the judge said.
Schanze's lawyer asked for time to meet with him and the pair huddled for a few minutes, but Schanze said that while he was willing to plead -- he wasn't going to admit to those facts.
"I'm happy to plea and I understand what that means, but it doesn’t seem fair to say, 'OK, I did everything and I’m a horrible, bad guy,'" he told the judge.
"Quick little primer on Constitutional law: As you sit there, you are presumed innocent of a crime. You’re not horrible, evil, whatever. That’s where you are now," Judge Benson snapped back. "We can resolve it through either a trial, at the conclusion of which a jury returns a verdict one way or the other, or you can plead guilty."
The judge said federal prosecutors were refusing to accept a "no contest" plea, leaving Schanze with the option of trial or pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge.
"I would say I agree there’s enough facts that they could portray enough evidence that there’s a possible conviction," Schanze told the judge.
"Trial will begin Monday, April 20," Judge Benson replied. "We will be in recess."
Acting U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen, who was in court for the plea deal, declined to comment as she left the courthouse.
Schanze marched out of court calling reporters "liars" repeatedly and insisting past criminal cases against him had been misportrayed.
"You know I didn't do it," Schanze said. "Tell the truth because the liar will be thrust down to Hell! Now they’ll refuse me a trial by jury and order me to plea to something you know I didn’t do because you have no evidence. Typical liars!"
If he is convicted of the misdemeanor charge, Schanze faces up to a year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine.