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Ex-officer who was shot in face, sat next to Michelle Obama faces trial in gunpoint rapes case

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PHILADELPHIA — A former police officer who was shot in the face and later sat next to the first lady while being honored at a presidential address is too dangerous to leave prison to await a rape trial, a judge said Tuesday.

Richard DeCoatsworth is charged with sexually assaulting two prostitutes at gunpoint last year and forcing them to take drugs. He withdrew a plea to reduced charges Tuesday, telling the judge he wants to clear his name.

"I'd like an opportunity to prove my innocence," DeCoatsworth said in court. "If I were a guilty man, the offer the commonwealth presented would be a good one."

DeCoatsworth, 28, has experienced a long slide since he was shot pursuing a suspect in 2007. A defense lawyer said he became addicted to painkillers after the shooting and resulting surgeries.

"The shot to the face changed his life forever. It really altered him," lawyer A. Charles Peruto said. "He had his face reconstructed. The pain has been immeasurable."

PHOTO: FILE - In this  Dec. 10, 2007 file photo, Philadelphia police officer Richard DeCoatsworth, who was shot in the face on duty while making a traffic stop, listens to Gov. Ed Rendell during a rally to push for new state gun laws at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.  The former Philadelphia police officer who was hailed as a hero and sat next to Michelle Obama at a presidential address will stand trial on charges he raped two prostitutes at gunpoint. The November trial comes after the 28-year-old DeCoatsworth withdrew a plea to reduced charges Tuesday, April 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Jason Minick, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2007 file photo, Philadelphia police officer Richard DeCoatsworth, who was shot in the face on duty while making a traffic stop, listens to Gov. Ed Rendell during a rally to push for new state gun laws at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. The former Philadelphia police officer who was hailed as a hero and sat next to Michelle Obama at a presidential address will stand trial on charges he raped two prostitutes at gunpoint. The November trial comes after the 28-year-old DeCoatsworth withdrew a plea to reduced charges Tuesday, April 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Jason Minick, File)

DeCoatsworth, who has a short beard covering much of the scarring below his mouth, faces decades in prison if convicted of the most serious charges at trial in November. He was likely to leave prison with time served, about 10 months, had he gone through with the plea.

DeCoatsworth sat next to first lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address in 2009, when he was honored for his heroics the day of the shooting.

Common Pleas Judge Charles Erlich denied his request for bail Tuesday, calling him a danger to the community.

"I don't know what caused certain things to happen in Mr. DeCoatsworth's life," said the judge, who noted that drug use and psychological issues were referenced in court files.

The files, including grand jury testimony, allege that DeCoatsworth had threatened people and said he could kill them with "de facto immunity" because of his police connections, the judge said.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has said he may have let DeCoatsworth return too soon after the shooting.

DeCoatsworth, battling addiction, left the police force on disability in 2011, his lawyer said. He had been the subject of at least one civil rights lawsuit, filed by Columbia University hip-hop scholar Marc Lamont Hill over a traffic stop. The suit appears to have been settled, according to federal court records.

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