Nearly two-thirds of Boyle County residents surveyed think a former Pulaski County preacher is guilty of killing three people in a 2013 pawn shop shooting, according to a Louisville polling firm.
During a hearing Monday on a request to move the trial, the defense team for Kenneth Allen Keith cited that telephone survey as evidence that the defendant can’t receive a fair trial in Boyle County because of pretrial publicity.
But Commonwealth’s Attorney Richie Bottoms said the survey also showed that 74 percent of respondents said they think Keith can receive a fair trial.
Boyle Circuit Judge Darren Peckler made no ruling on the motion after the nearly three-hour hearing. Peckler said he will submit a written decision as soon as possible.
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Keith, 51, former pastor of Main Street Baptist Church in Burnside, has pleaded not guilty to burglary, robbery and murder in the shooting deaths of Michael Hockensmith, 35, and his wife, Angela, 38, both of Stanford, and gold broker Daniel Smith, 60, of Richmond, in a Danville pawn shop co-owned by the Hockensmiths in September 2013.
Michael Hockensmith formerly worked for Keith at the Danville pawn shop before assuming ownership and changing the business name.
If convicted, Keith could face the death penalty.
There were 401 completed interviews in the random-sample survey conducted earlier this year, said Mary Lea Quick, research director for Thoroughbred Research Group, a Louisville polling firm.
Of the 401 surveyed, 262, or 65 percent, said they thought Keith was guilty of the crimes, testified Mykol Hamilton, a psychology professor at Centre College in Danville. Less than 2 percent said they thought Keith was innocent.
The survey suggests that potential jurors “have made up their minds before hearing the true facts of the case,” Hamilton said.
Prosecutor Bottoms said that half the respondents said they were “not really following” news media coverage of the case. Couldn’t those people sit on a jury, Bottoms asked Hamilton during cross-examination.
Just because they aren’t following the case closely “doesn’t mean they haven’t made up their minds,” Hamilton said.
Defense attorney Sam Cox said Keith’s case “has received more publicity than any case I’ve ever seen.”
Cox argued that seating a jury will be difficult because of the high percentage of Boyle residents who think Keith is guilty and because half the people will be ineligible over their strong opinions about the death penalty.
“I think the costs of moving this trial to a county where the bias is dramatically less far, far, far outweigh the risk posed by seating a jury here,” Cox said.
Bottoms argued that Keith can receive a fair trial in Danville.
“The court makes every effort to seat an unbiased jury, and I believe we can do that in this case,” Bottoms said.