Joseph Cambron in court - WDRB File

Joseph Cambron during a court hearing in October 2014. 

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – Joseph Cambron, who admitted to stabbing to death a 12-year-old in Cherokee Park in September 2014, pleaded guilty on Friday to manslaughter and tampering with evidence.

The plea agreement calls for Cambron to serve 13 years in prison.  Cambron will be formally sentenced in June.

Cambron, 26, was supposed to stand trial for the murder of 12-year-old Ray Allen Etheridge next Tuesday, and he could have been sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

Mike Lemke, an attorney for Cambron, said a plea deal was reached after the judge in the case threw out most of Cambron's confession statement to police because he had asked for an attorney before much of the interrogation.

In addition, Cambron's DNA was not found on the knife. 

"It's one of the saddest cases I've ever had in all the years I've been doing this," Lemke said in an interview Wednesday. "It's just sad all around."

A spokesman for the Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office acknowledged details of the plea agreement, but declined to comment further.  

Etheridge and his family went to Mid City Mall on Tuesday, Sept. 30 2014, and the child wandered off. 

Cambron told police he was smoking a cigarette with Etheridge in Cherokee Park when "out of nowhere" the boy punched him, stole his wallet and took off.

In recounting the incident, Cambron said he pulled a knife from his pants and chased after Etheridge, stabbing him in the back and causing him to fall to the ground where "he still tried to fight me."

"Next thing I remember, the knife is in his chest, my hand is shaking and I pulled it out," Cambron, told police. "He said he was sorry and I let him go."

Etheridge was found unresponsive in a wooded area near a campsite where Cambron was living in Cherokee Park. He died of two stab wounds, in his chest and back, according to an autopsy report.

The case was delayed, in part, because the circuit court judge involved, Charles L. Cunningham, was publicly reprimanded last year after a judicial conduct commission determined he engaged in judicial misconduct in the case.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals blasted Cambron's attorneys and Judge Cunningham, ruling they engaged in secret actions that intentionally excluded prosecutors. The appeals court called these practices "deceptive" and "reprehensible."

The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission sided with the appeals court, arguing that Judge Cunningham repeatedly participated in improper ex parte communications, meaning he had contact with defense attorneys without prosecutors' knowledge. 

However, in the reprimand the Commission, "duly considered that Judge Cunningham self-reported the violations and fully cooperated in the matter."

Cunningham offered to recuse himself from the case but both the defense and prosecution declined. 

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Digital Reporter

Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.