RICHMOND — A Madison County man faces life in prison without parole for 25 years after pleading guilty Thursday to the murders of three people, including a couple whose bodies were found buried in a field in March 2012.
Matthew Denholm, 30, pleaded guilty to murder in the shooting death of Zackary Flower, 25, a Berea resident and musician who had served with the National Guard. Flower died after a shooting at his Berea apartment on Nov. 21, 2011.
Denholm also pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in the 2010 deaths of Sonsaray "Sonsi" Warford, 30, and her boyfriend, Charles DeMarcus "Chew" Walker, 30. The couple had been missing for 21 months in March 2012 when their remains were found buried in a field near Richmond.
According to a police affidavit filed in 2012, Denholm was hired as a hit man to kill Walker, who had been targeted because he allegedly stole a large amount of money from a Richmond cocaine trafficker.
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Warford, the mother of two sons, was killed only because she happened to be with Walker, the affidavit said.
Denholm appeared in court with his head bowed. He spoke in a whisper, repeatedly answering questions with "Yes, your honor."
Judge Jean Chenault Logue handled the change of plea in the Warford and Walker case, and Judge William Clouse Jr. took the change of plea in the Flower case.
Relatives of Warford and Walker, many of whom were wearing black T-shirts depicting a photo of the couple, were in the courtroom.
Gregory Todd, Warford's father, said afterward that the day of reckoning had been a long time coming. Todd said he would have been more satisfied had Denholm received the death penalty.
"You take someone's life, you should be dealt with in the same way," Todd said.
Commonwealth's Attorney David Smith said relatives had expressed satisfaction with the outcome of both cases in his private meetings with them. Counting the time Denholm has already spent in jail, the earliest he will be eligible for parole is in 2037, Smith said.
Several detectives with the Richmond and Berea police departments also attended the change of plea proceeding.
"It's just one of our bigger cases and that's why we're here," said Richmond Police Maj. Bob Mott. "It was a massive case that affected a lot of law enforcement officers' lives. There were probably 20 agencies involved" in bringing Denholm to justice.
Denholm also pleaded guilty to two counts of kidnapping in the Warford and Walker case; the recommended penalty on those charges was also life in prison without parole for 25 years, to be served concurrently with the identical penalty on the murders of Warford and Walker.He also pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of abuse of a corpse; he has essentially already served the one-year penalty on those charges because of the time he has spent in jail since his 2011 arrest. The counts were brought because Denholm, according to court records, stabbed Walker several times, cut his throat, used a small hatchet to cut off Walker's hands and then extracted Walker's gold teeth.
The Berea case had been scheduled to go to trial in May but was continued.
The Berea shooting came several hours after Denholm got into a scuffle with two Hispanic men in the parking lot behind an apartment building where the shooting happened.
An apartment resident, Kevin Price, and another man intervened to help the Hispanic men, Berea police have said.
Price threw a chair onto Denholm from an outside second-story stair landing when it appeared that Denholm was about to get something from his back pocket. As he left, Denholm made several threatening comments that he would return to the apartment.
He returned with older brother Ryan Denholm and a shotgun, which he used to shoot Flower, according to previous testimony. Price was shot in the right leg by Ryan Denholm.
The Denholms and another co-defendant were arrested later that day in Jefferson County.
Matt Denholm also pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree assault for the shooting of Price in Berea and first-degree burglary for entry into Price's apartment; the recommended sentence on each was 20 years in prison to be served concurrently with the life sentence.
The co-defendants in the Berea shooting — Ryan Denholm, Sherry Lynn Bratten and Randall Burgess Jr. — have criminal cases pending in Madison Circuit Court. Burgess, indicted on charges of facilitation of criminal attempt to commit murder and facilitation of first-degree burglary, is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 10.
Smith said more indictments might be coming in the Warford and Walker killings.
LeBruce Ellington and Daniel R. Keene, co-defendants with Denholm in the Walker and Warford case, have charges pending in Madison Circuit Court.
Ellington also is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 1 on drug-trafficking charges in U.S. District Court in Lexington.
According to court records, Denholm served in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2008. Court records also show that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a type of anxiety disorder that often affects those who return from war.
Denholm is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 1 in Richmond.