Serra used the Alford plea, which allows defendants to maintain their innocence while pleading guilty to the court and avoid a jury trial.
But the court will assume guilt at sentencing, said 21st Judicial District Judge David Bottger; sentencing is set for Jan. 19, 2012, at 11 a.m.
The sentencing will be open, meaning the judge has the latitude to impose a sentence within a certain range for each offense, Bottger said.
By pleading guilty, Serra not only gives up his right to a jury trial but must also register as a sex offender, Bottger said, but not necessarily for the long-term and without lifetime supervision.
Serra revoked his own bond and has been in the county jail for the past six weeks, said Robert Shapiro, First Assistant Attorney General for the State, who is prosecuting the case.
Serra appeared in court in a gray-and-black-striped jail uniform, with his hands and ankles shackled. Across the courtroom, about ten women in business attire followed the proceedings closely.
For the unwanted sexual contact charge, Serra could face from six to 24 months in jail, fines ranging from $500 to $5,000, plus a $400 sex offender surcharge. He could also be put on probation with 60 days in jail and two years of work release.
The maximum penalty for criminal extortion is a fine up to $500,000 and up to 12 years in jail, Bottger said. He could also put Serra on probation for the extortion charge, which would mean 90 days in jail and two years of work release.
Bottger asked if there was a community corrections facility in the district, to which Serra responded.
“No, but I’ve been out of the loop, so I don’t know,” he said.
Serra resigned his position in January of this year.
Shapiro told the court that in using the Alford plea, Serra “acknowledges that there are things in discovery that if presented to a jury, he would be found guilty.”
Serra’s plea could also “limit his activities” in other ways, he said, and asked that he be required to undergo a psycho/sexual examination, which Bottger ordered.
“At some point he has to acknowledge what he’s done,” Shapiro said.
The psycho/sexual exam will be a “critical component” of the pre-sentencing evaluation ordered by Bottger, Shapiro said.
“Is he remorseful or apologetic? Is he treatable? Should he be in community corrections or the Department of Corrections?” Shapiro asked.
Serra’s plea of guilty means no jury trial, which means the victims will not have to state the lurid details they have revealed in testimony to law enforcement, and all three accepted the provisions of the plea agreement, Shapiro said.
But the case would not have moved forward to this point, he added, without the “courage and resilience” of the women who wanted to see Serra brought to justice.
Serra was first arrested on Sept. 30, 2010, to face charges of sexual contact with no consent, a class 4 felony; indecent exposure, a class 2 misdemeanor; and first-degree official misconduct, a class 2 misdemeanor. Later charges included felony extortion, two more misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure, and misdemeanor official misconduct. All except the current charges were dropped.
During the investigation, one witness told agents of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation that Serra allegedly intimidated female employees to commit sex acts in his office. One witness said she complied with Serra’s wishes out of fear of losing her job and that Serra was always threatening to fire people.
Serra was arrested again on Dec. 22 and charged with violating the terms of his bond by intimidating a victim in a Montrose department store.
After a three-day trial last month, he was found guilty of all three counts against him: violation of bail bond conditions, violation of a protection order, and harassment. Serra had pleaded not guilty to the charges. He will also face sentencing for those charges on Jan. 19.
Serra’s alleged crimes are particularly egregious because of the position of trust and authority he held, Shapiro said after the hearing.
“I can’t find a case like this or any other major crime involving a sitting prosecutor in this state,” he said. “That’s the reason the governor got involved and wanted a special prosecutor.”
As an elected prosecutor, Serra was sworn to protect the community, but the extortion charge shows he did not do that, Shapiro said.
“He used his influence and privilege to make people do things they didn’t want to do,” he said. “He threatened them with economic hardship if they don’t comply; that if they didn’t do certain things, they would lose their jobs.”