Chief Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine said she plans to more closely monitor the progress of death-penalty cases after experiencing difficulties in advancing one capital case toward trial.
Her desire for more progress comes after it became apparent last month that a death-penalty trial scheduled to start May 30 will be postponed.
Goodwine became upset April 27 after public defenders Kim Green and Chris Tracy sought to delay a murder trial for Quincinio Canada and Dawan Mulazim.
The two men are charged with murder, robbery and assault in the 2014 shooting death of Marine Lance Cpl. Jonathan Price, 26, and the wounding of his wife, Megan. The two were celebrating Megan’s birthday when they were shot in the parking lot of Austin City Saloon in Lexington.
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Green, Mulazim’s attorney, and Tracy, Canada’s attorney, said they could not be ready by May 30 because of the complexity of issues involved in preparing for trial.
Goodwine initially resisted delaying the trial but relented May 4 when it became evident that to push forward risked a possible appeal and retrial. Tempers flared and tears were shed over the course of a couple of hearings before Goodwine decided that more time was needed.
Under the Constitution, a criminal defendant has a right to the effective assistance of legal counsel at trial. Tracy and Green argued that they could not provide that effective counsel.
“There’s not a remote chance that we are even close to being ready,” Tracy told Goodwine on April 27. “There are so many issues of such complexity that are still left to litigate in this matter.”
Goodwine said she intended to start the trial as scheduled. “The only way this is going to stop is to hold feet to the fire,” she said, her voice rising.
The judge added: “I’ve tried 10 capital cases in 13 years and every single one of them has had a motion to continue 30 days before trial because they need more time.”
But on May 4, when the defense indicated that it needed time to sort through Canada’s juvenile court records for mental-health evidence, Goodwine said she would postpone the trial to a later date.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kimberly Baird acknowledged that to push forward risked a “reversible error” on appeal.
But Baird added, dabbing at tears and with her voice cracking: “That is so unfair to the commonwealth. I recognize this is me being angry, is what this is. … It’s so not fair. I recognize this is going to get continued, as does the victim’s family. I recognize it’s probably going to be next year” before jury selection begins.
Debbie Price, Jonathan Price’s mother, was also frustrated. Jonathan’s birthday was May 4, the day of the hearing when it became apparent that the trial regarding his death would not begin as scheduled.
“We’re disappointed in all these last-minute motions,” Debbie Price said after the hearing. But she added, “We don’t want the defense to come back and say something was done wrong. We want everything done right the first time.”
Fayette isn’t the only county where frustration is mounting over repeated delays. Last month Madison Circuit Judge William Clouse Jr. rescheduled a capital case of two defendants charged in the 2015 shooting death of Richmond police officer Daniel Ellis. Clouse had previously said he would not grant a continuance.
On May 3, the mother of Logan James Dean Tipton could be heard asking why the public defenders have filed a motion for a continuance in the case of the man charged with stabbing the 6-year-old Versailles boy to death. (Kim Green, a public defender in the Canada-Mulazim case, is also defending Ronald Exantus, the man accused in the stabbing.)
Ed Monahan of the state’s Department of Public Advocacy said delays are a consequence of heavy workloads faced by public defenders. The duty to investigate, prepare and try the guilt/innocence and sentencing phases of a capital case requires an average of 1,900 hours, according to the American Bar Association.
In the Canada-Mulazim matter, public defender Green has six capital cases. The bar association recommends that a public defender should have no more than three.
“Each judge wants, very understandably, to move their docket,” Monahan said. “One of the consequences with having a public defender program that doesn’t have enough resources to do the work adequately is we have to ask for continuances, because we don’t have the capacity to do the cases on a time schedule that judges, witnesses, clients and victims deserve. We’re in these difficult situations because we have to get enough time to represent the client and we ask for a lot of continuances.”
As part of her new protocol, Goodwine said she intends to hold status hearings every 30 days to make sure that the defense and prosecution are moving forward and meeting deadlines.
She also wants to create a master calendar so that there aren’t scheduling conflicts between judges. One problem in the Canada-Mulazim case was that their public defenders had another capital case scheduled to start the month before in Judge James Ishmael’s court. Green and Tracy said there was no way they could adequately prepare for both.
The trial before Ishmael was eventually rescheduled for next year. Goodwine doesn’t want that kind of scheduling conflict to happen again.
“If I have this schedule in place with deadlines, and if there is a pattern of failing to comply with a deadline, it gives me the ability to say ‘You’re not getting it continued any more,’ or I can fine” the lawyers, Goodwine said.
“Ideally, the defense attorneys and the commonwealth’s attorneys, 30 to 45 days out from the start of trial, should be doing nothing but preparing for trial.”
In the meantime, three capital cases are scheduled for trial later this year in Fayette Circuit Court.
Travis Bredhold goes on trial Sept. 5 in the 2013 shooting death and robbery of Mukeshbhai Patel , 51, at a Marathon station on Alexandria Drive.
Efrain Diaz and Justin Smith are scheduled for trial Oct. 2 in the 2015 shooting death and robbery of University of Kentucky student Jonathan Krueger, 22.
Robert Guernsey and Trustin Jones are scheduled for trial Nov. 1 in the 2013 shooting death and robbery of Bluegrass Community and Technical College student Derek Pelphrey, 23.
Goodwine has not set a new date for the Canada-Mulazim trial.