For the second time in six weeks in a Fayette County courtroom, a father extended forgiveness to defendants responsible for the death of his son.
“If we are forgiven in Christ, we must also forgive,” Steven Pelphrey told Trustin Jones and Robert Guernsey during a Thursday sentencing. Jones and Guernsey pleaded guilty earlier this year to crimes related to the 2013 fatal shooting of Pelphrey’s son, Derek, 23, a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
The public expression of forgiveness came after a similar episode on Nov. 7 when another father, Abdul-Munim Sombat Jitmoud, forgave Trey Relford for complicity in the stabbing death of his 22-year-old son, Salahuddin.
“As difficult as this is, and trust me, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, we forgive you both,” Steven Pelphrey told Jones and Guernsey.
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“In doing so, let me make this perfectly clear: In no way do we excuse or ever forget what you have done,” Pelphrey said. “You created a permanent hole in our family. ... Both of your punishments must be long and severe; therefore, we’ve asked the judge and the courts to give you guys the maximum terms of your sentences and for all charges to run consecutively.”
Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine did as the Pelphrey family asked.
She sentenced Jones, the admitted shooter, to 30 years for murder and 10 years for first-degree robbery, for a total of 40 years. (She could have made thesentences concurrent, totalling for 30 years.) That penalty is in addition to a five-year sentence for a separate robbery conviction, so his total sentence on all charges is 45 years.
Goodwine sentenced Guernsey to 10 years for second-degree manslaughter and 13 years for first-degree robbery, for a total of 23 years.
Derek Pelphrey was shot Sept. 3, 2013, on Ridgepoint Run Road near Spangler Drive. Guernsey acknowledged in court in November that he was the one who set in motion the events that led to Pelphrey’s death.
Guenrsey, 37, thought Pelphrey carried narcotics and a large amount of cash, and he plotted to have Jones rob Pelphrey.
Jones, 24, and his cousin Desmond Jones, 27, followed Pelphrey’s vehicle and then confronted him in the street. Trustin Jones shot Pelphrey, who got out of his car and collapsed in the street.
Desmond Jones received probation earlier this month.
Goodwine said she received multiple letters before sentencing, but the one that touched her the most was written by a woman who, seeing Derek in the street, went to him and held him as he took his last breath. Goodwine didn’t identify the woman.
The letter writer wanted to convey that Derek was not alone when he died, “in hopes that would bring some comfort,” Goodwine said. “It was heartfelt. It was written with a lot of heart, that someone, a stranger, cared enough to not only stop, but to call 911 and to hold him.”
Goodwine said that all too often, she is confronted by “senseless acts” such as this.
Steven Pelphrey said before the sentencing that he’d had some private time with the father of Trustin Jones, and the two hugged.
“It’s not just us who lost somebody,” Pelphrey told Jones. “You destroyed so much for so little. But you still have life. You still have choices. While we hate what you did, we don’t hate you.
“We also pray that you all find the strength to reach out to the next generation so that they don’t make the same mistakes.”