Retired Fayette Circuit Court Judge Armand Angelucci, a jurist who came to know the grief of losing a loved one to violence, died Friday. He was 94.
"He was a very down-to-earth judge," said Lexington attorney Julius Rather. "He didn't lord it over you when you were trying a case. He was very practical and was a very good judge."
Born Aug. 8, 1920, in Lexington to parents who were Italian immigrants, Angelucci was 16 when he began his studies at the University of Kentucky, where he graduated.
After serving as a turret gunner aboard a B-24 bomber during World War II, he returned home to graduate from UK Law School. He served first as an assistant attorney general for the state, then was elected Fayette County attorney, a position in which he served 12 years.
Angelucci was circuit judge from 1970 to 1988, when Gov. Wallace Wilkinson appointed him to the Kentucky Workers' Compensation Board. He served there for seven years and then retired.
Ray Larson said Angelucci "scared the hell out of me" when Larson became Fayette County commonwealth's attorney in 1985.
"He was a tough guy. No nonsense. Had little or no tolerance for people who would violate other people's rights or would victimize them," Larson said.
"He gave me some advice: 'In the criminal justice system and in your job, Ray, don't do people favors in their cases,'" Larson said. "That was good advice. We've always tried to treat everybody the same, no matter who they were, and I've lost some friends because I didn't do their kid a favor or their family member a favor."
Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt said Angelucci was "a big encourager to me," particularly during hard-fought election campaigns.
"He would say, 'Hang in there. Keep your head up,'" Witt recalled. "'You know who you are. Stay the course.'"
Angelucci presided over one of the more lurid trials in Lexington history, the 1986 trial of Elizabeth Zehnder and her purported lover, Karen Brown. With its mix of greed, drugs, infidelity and a gruesome murder for profit, the trial drew many courtroom spectators. Zehnder and Brown were convicted of murder in the for-hire slaying of Zehnder's husband of five months, Michael Turpin.
Turpin, 22, was stabbed 19 times on Feb. 2, 1986, in the couple's south Lexington apartment, and his body was dumped in a pond at Lakeside Golf Course. A Nicholasville man, Keith Bouchard, admitted killing Turpin but said he did so at the behest of Zehnder and Brown, who he said had offered him money to kill Turpin. Bouchard avoided trial by pleading guilty and testifying against Zehnder and Brown.
The two women were spared the death penalty but received the next-stiffest punishment — life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.
Tragedy struck Judge Angelucci and his wife, Joyce, in 1988 when they lost their son, Fayette County Deputy Sheriff Joseph Angelucci, who was shot while on duty.
On Nov. 4, 1988, Joseph Angelucci was in the process of serving a warrant on William Bennett to have Bennett taken to a mental health treatment facility. Bennett resisted arrest and then seized the deputy's .357 Magnum revolver and pulled the trigger, shooting Angelucci once in the chest. He died three weeks later.
A jury later found Bennett guilty of murder, but mentally ill. Bennett died in prison in 2011.
In a 2001 interview with the Herald-Leader, Armand Angelucci said the death of his youngest son "eats a hole in my stomach every day. It never goes away."
Joseph Angelucci's death "forever changed that family," said Witt, who was also a deputy at the time of his shooting. "Their lives went on a different path after that. They were steadfast in ensuring that law enforcement officers who lost their lives, that those offenders were held accountable. They were at every parole hearing, hoping that offender (Bennett) would not be released early."
Larson recalled a haunting quote from Judge Angelucci. "He said, 'Who's going to remember Joe after his mother and I are dead?' That bothered him a lot."
In happier times, Judge Angelucci sought relief from the pressures of the bench by spending a pleasant afternoon at the track. He reveled in the fact that a racehorse was named for him: It was called Judge Angelucci. The horse was bred by Tom Gentry, a friend of the judge.
"When I asked him if we could name the horse after him, he lit up like a Christmas tree," Gentry said in a 1987 interview.
In April of that year, the 4-year-old colt, ridden by Bill Shoemaker and trained by Charlie Whittingham, won the $219,400 San Bernardino Handicap for older horses at Santa Anita. Two months later, the horse won the $328,000 Californian at Hollywood Park.
Then, in November 1987, the horse ran in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic, in a bid to upset 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand and 1987 Derby winner Alysheba in the world's richest race. Ferdinand came in first, Alysheba second, and Judge Angelucci third.
Survivors include the judge's son, Armand "Mondo" Angelucci Jr., and stepson, Frank "Buck" Grow.
Armand Angelucci's wife, Joyce Sowards Angelucci, died in 2012. The judge was also preceded in death by a sister, Rosalynd Austin, and two brothers. Phillip J. Angelucci Jr., a longtime Lexington clothier and a former Fayette County sheriff, died in 2004. Dr. Ralph J. Angelucci, a neurosurgeon and longtime trustee at the University of Kentucky, died in 1998.
Visitation will be 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Milward-Man O'War, 1509 Trent Boulevard. Funeral Mass will be 10 a.m. Wednesday at Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington.
Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery.