Attorney: Marshall Co. school officials 'tampering' with shooting case witnesses

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – The defense attorneys for a student charged with murder in last winter's high school shooting in Benton, Ky., have asked a judge to prevent Marshall County school officials from “further tampering” in the case.

In a motion filed Monday, attorney Tom Griffiths told Marshall Circuit Court Judge James T. Jameson that several teachers and juvenile witnesses in the case against Gabe Parker have been “reluctant to speak due to interference by the Marshall county school board and its agents.”

Griffiths has requested a hearing to determine the extent of the witness interference and asked the judge to issue orders to prevent any further tampering.

Parker was indicted on two counts of murder and 14 counts of assault after he allegedly opened fire with a handgun at Marshall County High School shortly before 8 a.m. on January 23.

In addition, Parker’s defense has also filed a motion asking the judge to force Kentucky State Police to turn over information retrieved from the teen’s cell phone. Griffiths wrote that KSP has refused to comply with a court order to produce the material.

And a third motion asks the judge to order a counselor to turn over records of sessions with Austin Parker, Gabe’s father. Griffiths claims Gabe and his mother were required to attend several of the sessions and the records could contain information that helps the teen.

The judge will hear the motions on Friday. 

As for the allegations of witness tampering, Griffiths claims a teacher at South Marshall Elementary School texted to the defense that the principal of the school told teachers to talk with a lawyer retained by the superintendent before speaking with Griffiths or anyone working on his behalf.

Another teacher at the elementary school told Griffiths he was willing to talk with the defense until she spoke with the lawyer, Mike Owsley, according to the motion, which includes text messages and an affidavit of a member of Parker’s defense team.

Parker attended the elementary school and his defense team is trying to interview teachers and others who “knew him best,” according to court records.

And Griffiths said he has been told that teachers at Marshall County High School have told students not to speak to Parker’s defense team.

In addition, an investigator hired by Parker’s defense received a letter in September from Owsley requesting “the defense team cease their interviews of potential witnesses” who were employed in the school system.

Griffiths said Owsley was retained by Trent Lovett, superintendent of the Marshall County school board.

In his motion, Griffiths argues the defense has a duty to investigate the case and interview witnesses but the actions by Owsley and school officials have had a “chilling effect on the willingness” of people to be interviewed.

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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.