On Tuesday morning, a 19-year-old California man pleaded guilty to having a handmade shank and jabbing it at two Montana State Prison corrections officers.
At this change of plea and sentencing hearing in Powell County District Court, Baby Devine Wilkins changed his plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” to possession of a deadly weapon by a prisoner and two counts of assault on a peace officer or judicial officer.
If Wilkins is convicted of these three felonies, he could face up to 35 years in the Montana State Prison and $150,000 in fines, court documents say.
The three felony charges stem from an incident in the Montana State Prison last May. According to the affidavit, Wilkins was showering under supervision of several state prison corrections officers. While showering, Wilkins claimed to have dropped a bar of soap and asked one of the officers for a new one.
When the officer approached the barred shower area with the soap, Wilkins lunged at him with a “manufactured weapon made out of sharpened metal,” the affidavit says. Wilkins missed cutting the corrections officer by inches.
Other prison corrections officers assisted in defusing the situation, asking Wilkins to give up without resorting to further violence. Court documents allege that Wilkins refused, said he would stab the officers, and made another lunge at another officer with the shank through the shower area bars. He then threw the shank at this officer and struck him in the neck. Neither officer suffered serious injury.
This incident led the Powell County Attorney’s Office to file the three felony charges against Wilkins. In January, Wilkins pled not guilty to the three charges, but changed his plea at Tuesday morning’s hearing in Powell County District Court.
After Wilkins’ change of plea, the Powell County Attorney’s Office and Wilkins’ public defender expected to proceed with a sentencing hearing. Three Montana Department of Corrections officials sat in the district court gallery, waiting to give their testimonies.
But Judge Ray J. Dayton said he did not want to hold a sentencing hearing.
“These are very serious offenses. I have mixed emotions about proceeding with sentencing on a busy day like today,” Dayton said to the courtroom.
Dayton went on to say he did not want either the State or the defense to rush through a sentencing that could have a huge impact on the rest of Wilkins’ life.
Wilkins entered the Montana Department of Corrections system in 2017.
In May of that year, Wilkins was found guilty of three counts of robbery and one count of assault on a peace officer with bodily injury in Missoula County District Court. Judge Robert L. Deschamps III sentenced Wilkins to 10 years with the Department of Corrections, with 7 years suspended.
These four felony charges and the resulting conviction were related to four separate incidents that occurred in February and August of 2016.
In February, Wilkins robbed a pedestrian on Helen Avenue and the Ole’s County Store on North Orange Street in Missoula, according to Missoula County court documents. Wilkins also attempted to rob a second Missoula convenience store on the same day, brandishing a knife in all three incidents.
The next day, Wilkins was arrested by Idaho law enforcement in Wallace after committing a robbery there. Wilkins and was with another juvenile that drove him to the various robbery sites in Montana and Idaho.
The two teens had escaped from a juvenile treatment facility in Salt Lake City, Utah, stolen an SUV and drove to Montana where they agreed to commit robberies to get money, Missoula County court documents say.
Six months after Wilkins’ arrest, court documents say he hit a Missoula County detention officer in the head, knowingly or purposely causing bodily injury.
After his May 2017 conviction, Wilkins served 176 days of his DOC sentence in Nebraska through an interstate compact, and just over two years in the Montana State Prison before being placed on probation in February of this year, according to Montana Department of Corrections spokesperson Amy Barton.
Soon after being placed on probation, Wilkins was taken into custody again by Powell County for the three pending felony charges.
According to the Powell County Attorney’s Office, Wilkins remains in custody at the Powell County jail. There will not be any pre-sentencing investigation, so his sentencing hearing is expected to be held in the coming weeks.