A Lexington man pleaded guilty Thursday to the 2013 shooting death of a Bluegrass Community and Technical College student.
Trustin Jones, 24, pleaded guilty to murder and first-degree robbery in the death of Derek Pelphrey, 23. A charge of evidence tampering was dismissed.
Jones admitted in court that he was the shooter who took Pelphrey’s life.
“Did you in fact commit the offenses that you’re pleading guilty to?” Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine asked.
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“Yes, ma’am,” Jones answered.
Jones had been scheduled to go to trial next week, and could have faced death had he been convicted.
Prosecutors recommended that Jones be sentenced to 30 years in prison on the murder charge and 10 years on the robbery charge.
Goodwine will decide Dec. 15 whether the total penalty for Jones will be 30 or 40 years.
Another defendant, Robert Guernsey, 37, is scheduled to go on trial Nov. 13 before Goodwine. (Guernsey had been scheduled to be tried Nov. 1 with Jones, but the start of his trial has been pushed back.)
Jones will not testify against Guernsey, said defense attorney Kim Green. “It was a condition of our plea deal that he not be required to testify,” Green said.
Goodwine said Guernsey will not be eligible for the death penalty now that Jones has acknowledged he was the shooter. That is in keeping with precedent in Fayette County death-eligible cases in which there were multiple co-defendants and one accepted responsibility for the fatal offense, Goodwine said.
“It is highly, highly unlikely that death would be imposed in those circumstances” for the remaining co-defendants, she said.
Pelphrey apparently was targeted because he had been in communication with Guernsey, who thought Pelphrey carried drugs and a large amount of money, according to information disclosed in pretrial conferences. Pelphrey was followed when he left Bluegrass Community college until he was shot on Sept. 3, 2013, in the neck while in his car. He got out of the car and collapsed in the intersection of Ridgepoint near Spangler Drive. The intersection is near Tates Creek Road outside of New Circle Road.
Guernsey relayed information to Jones, who admitted to police that he was the shooter.
In his sworn statement in court, Jones said the cars were side by side. “I told him (Pelphrey) to throw the drugs and the money through the window,” he said.
But another car approached. When the driver of the car in which Jones was a passenger accelerated, the gun Jones was holding went off, Jones said. Jones’ driver wasn’t identified in court.
Jones’ plea came after the Kentucky Supreme Court said last year that Judge Goodwine erred when she excluded the death penalty as a sentencing option for Jones and Guernsey.
Goodwine had said the death penalty “is the ultimate punishment and should be reserved and sought in cases involving only the most egregious facts one could possibly imagine.”
But the Supreme Court ruled that Goodwine should have waited to hear the evidence at trial before deciding to exclude the death penalty.
In her concluding statements in court, Goodwine said “there is no happy resolution” to this case.
“I don’t think there would have been any resolution that could change the pain that this family feels,” Goodwine said. “This is a tragedy all the way around.
“I think it is important that Mr. Jones accepts responsibility. ... But in accepting responsibility, Mr. Jones, there is also accepting consequences.”