Lexington judge erred in prohibiting death penalty in murder tri - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Lexington judge erred in prohibiting death penalty in murder trial, state Supreme Court rules

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LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – A Fayette Circuit Court judge erred when she decided to exclude the death penalty as a possible sentence in a murder and robbery trial last year, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine made headlines when she ruled in April 2015 that the death penalty would be a “disproportionate” punishment for Trustin Jones and Robert Guernsey in the 2013 shooting death of 23-year-old Derek Pelphrey, a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

But in a unanimous opinion, the high court ruled Thursday that Goodwine should have heard evidence at trial before deciding whether the death penalty was appropriate.

“While the circuit court has the authority to determine whether a death sentence would be inherently disproportionate, the exercise of that power is proper only after the circuit court has heard all of the evidence relevant to the indicted charges, evidence subjected to the adversarial process in the guilt phase of the trial,” the Supreme Court ruled.

In her pre-trial ruling, Goodwine noted that Pelphrey had a “significant amount of narcotics” on him when he was killed and the judge knew of no jury that had recommended capital punishment in a case involving suspected drug trafficking.

“The death penalty is the ultimate punishment and should be reserved and sought in cases involving only the most egregious set of facts one could possibly imagine,” Goodwine ruled.

Goodwine also pointed out that then Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson sought the death penalty in every case that met the criteria.

“In the circuit court's view, this practice unnecessarily consumes time and resources that could be spent on other cases,” Goodwine ruled, according to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court justices noted, however, that while the death penalty has “fallen into disfavor in recent years, it remains a viable penalty in Kentucky, authorized by our legislature in specific types of cases.”

The case, which was put on hold awaiting a decision by the high court, has been sent back to Fayette Circuit Court. 

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