A Layton man has pleaded guilty to extorting money from an alleged drug dealer, who had been charged with nearly killing the man's wife, in return for not testifying against him in court.

Robert M. Townsend, 19, pleaded guilty in 2nd District Court to one count of extortion and one count of distributing marijuana. He is scheduled for sentencing Jan. 29.A witness-tampering charge and a pending juvenile court action against Townsend's wife were dismissed as part of a plea negotiation.

Defense attorney Don Redd told Judge Douglas L Cornaby the case is a complex one, involving the drug dealer - who has himself fled the area - and Townsend's wife, brother and mother.

The dealer allegedly threatened the life of Townsend's 17-year-old pregnant wife, who was supposed to testify against the man. The dealer had been charged when prosecutors said he administered a near-fatal dose of cocaine to the woman several months ago.

Townsend and his wife agreed to accept several thousand dollars from the man and leave the area last April, Redd told the judge, because they feared they would be harmed and felt they were not receiving adequate police protection.

The case became more complicated when Townsend's brother and mother got involved, allegedly acting as intermediaries between Townsend and the dealer.

They are awaiting trial on charges of extortion after the dealer recorded telephone conversations in which they arranged to pick up the money, said a Davis County prosecutor.

Townsend faces a prison sentence of one to 15 years on the extortion charge, a second-degree felony, and zero to five years on the third-degree marijuana distribution charge.