Patrick Hutchinson pleaded guilty Monday in the slayings of his wife and a Lexington firefighter during a 2004 shooting that spiraled into a six-hour standoff with police.
Hutchinson, 50, appeared in Fayette Circuit Court for an arraignment and pleaded guilty to the slayings rather than stand trial.
Prosecutors presented Hutchinson with a plea deal last month. Under terms of the agreement, the prosecution recommended that Hutchinson be sentenced to 25 years in prison in exchange for pleading guilty but mentally ill to killing Brenda Cowan, Lexington's first black female firefighter, and Hutchinson's wife, Fontaine, and wounding two others in a Feb. 13, 2004, domestic violence shooting. After the arraignment, Fayette Circuit Judge James D. Ishmael proceeded with formal sentencing. He accepted the prosecution's recommendation.
"It is certainly a day, as the old saying goes, that will live in infamy in Fayette County," Ishmael said.
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Hutchinson received nine months credit for time served. He must serve at least 201/2 years, or 85 percent, of the sentence because the offense is classified as violent. Hutchinson was sentenced to 25 years for Cowan's slaying; 20 for Fontaine Hutchinson's slaying, 10 years for shooting firefighter Jim Sandford; and 10 years for shooting at a police officer. The sentences will run concurrently.
"I think it was a just outcome," said Samuel Cox, one of Hutchinson's court-appointed attorneys. He declined further comment.
Ishmael explained during sentencing why he agreed to Hutchinson's plea deal. He often spoke directly to the Cowan family, who had wanted Hutchinson to stand trial. Cowan's cousin Loren Jordan, who spoke on behalf of her family during Monday's proceedings, called the 25-year sentence "an obscene suggestion" after the hearing.
"Is this just? Perhaps not. Probably not," Ishmael said during the sentencing. "Is this the right thing to do?... The court is persuaded that this is the right thing to do for our community and for the families involved."
Ishmael said he allowed Hutchinson to serve his sentences concurrently instead of consecutively, which Cowan's family preferred, because Hutchinson could have withdrawn his plea if Ishmael had acted against the prosecution's recommendation. If that had happened, "we'd sort of be back to square one, unresolved and festered," Ishmael said.
"Mr. Hutchinson, I would very much like to run these sentences consecutively," he said. "You deserve no less."
Ishmael said he was taken aback when he learned that the prosecution would offer Hutchinson a deal. But the judge said he ultimately agreed that a plea agreement, which would guarantee prison time, would be better than a trial.
"There's a real possibility that Mr. Hutchinson could be found not guilty by reason of insanity," Ishmael said. "That would be a real tragedy."
Question of competency
Cowan, 40, and her engine company arrived before police at the Hutchinson home on Adams Lane, where there had been a reported shooting. Police say Hutchinson shot Cowan, an 11-year veteran of the department, while she tried to render aid to Hutchinson's 60-year-old wife.
The six-hour standoff ended with police firing chemical rounds and then raiding Hutchinson's home in rural southern Fayette County.
Patrick Hutchinson originally was charged with two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of wanton endangerment that was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Hutchinson pleaded not guilty to the charges during his initial arraignment, but things slowed for several years because his mental competency was at issue. He has been at Central State Hospital in Louisville since 2004, receiving treatment for paranoid schizophrenia.
On the day of the shooting, Hutchinson told a Herald-Leader reporter, who accidentally called the home while trying to contact neighbors, that he was staging a coup against human clones.
During a hearing in November 2004, Lexington police played a recorded interview of a detective questioning Hutchinson after his arrest. Hutchinson talked about the Ark of the Covenant, disguised evil souls, and aliens and clones, which included his wife and Lexington police officers and firefighters.
Asked why he killed his wife, Hutchinson told police that she kept "nagging" him.
"She kept fussing at me, fussing at me," Hutchinson said during the interview.
"I couldn't take it anymore ... she's been nagging for years, right after they replaced her with a clone. They killed my wife — a good woman — and replaced her with a clone."
Hutchinson told police he killed his wife for those reasons, and said, "I didn't kill any humans today; those were only clones."
Hutchinson has been evaluated by several doctors, including psychiatrist Frank DeLand at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center in LaGrange. DeLand testified in November 2004 that treatment had helped Hutchinson cope with some of his "more bizarre" delusions, including his belief of an alien invasion and that he was sexually assaulted by the late comedian George Burns.
Ishmael ruled at the time that Hutchinson was not competent to stand trial but should continue treatment for several months with the goal that he become competent to stand trial.
Hutchinson's competency could improve, but his mental condition at the time of the 2004 shooting would never change, Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said Monday.
"We're stuck with what his mental condition was at the time he pulled that trigger," said Larson, whose office was involved in the plea agreement.
Closure, not justice
Hutchinson has been evaluated annually since 2004.
On Monday, during a competency hearing that was held before Hutchinson's sentencing, Dr. Amy Trivette of the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center testified that Hutchinson was competent.
Trivette interviewed Hutchinson in November. She testified that Hutchinson takes Risperdal, an anti-psychotic that has improved his delusions and hallucinations, and Celexa, an anti-depressant. But Trivette said Hutchinson made a delusional statement about an injury he told her he had suffered years ago when Prince Charles shook his hand too hard.
Ishmael acknowledged that the plea does not bring justice to the victims' families. But a trial "would only add heartache and anguish to your hurt," he said. "A trial would not answer your questions. It would just pick off the scab.
"I just ask that each of you understand that this is not justice for the conduct. It is closure and it is a real way to address the legal issues that are involved."
Larson said "this was obviously not what prosecutors wanted," but there was "a very real possibility" that a jury would have found Hutchinson not guilty by reason of insanity.
"The easiest thing to do is just to try the case and let the chips fall as they may," Larson said. "That's the easy thing to do. But that doesn't deal with this obligation that I have as a prosecutor. I have to do all I can to guarantee the public safety. If he had walked out on the street, I'm very fearful that he would have found himself in the same situation."
Larson noted that Hutchinson still would be eligible for parole in 201/2 years if he had been sentenced to a consecutive prison term, which would have totaled 65 years.
Jordan, Cowan's cousin, said her family is "disgusted, dismayed and saddened" by Ishmael's decision. To gain closure, Jordan said her family will "just have to give it to God."
"Trying to get closure through the judicial system is not going to happen," she said.
Larson said he was sorry the family disagreed with the sentence because "you want crime victims or survivors of homicide victims to agree with you."
"You always want that," Larson said. "Sometimes, it doesn't happen."
Fontaine Hutchinson's daughters said they were satisfied with the deal.
"I'm happy that we're not having a trial because I physically and emotionally couldn't handle it," Dawn Fitzpatrick said.
Still, Fontaine Hutchinson's daughters disputed their stepfather's mental state during Monday's sentencing.
Kira Gurnee said her mother told her the day before she was killed that she planned to leave Hutchinson. "The murder was a shock, but it did make sense to me," she said. "I firmly believe he knew exactly what he was doing."