GEORGETOWN — Execution is no longer an option for James Anthony Gray, the man accused of killing his parents in their northern Scott County home.
Commonwealth's Attorney Gordie Shaw notified Scott Circuit Judge Paul Isaacs on Friday that the prosecution will not seek the death penalty for Gray.
Shaw told the Herald-Leader afterward that the decision meets with the approval of relatives of James E. Gray and Vivian Gray, the couple found shot to death in their home near Sadieville in April 2007.
"I can't go into any details but, after a very in-depth meeting with the family and based on that meeting, we are deciding not to seek death," Shaw said.
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That means that if James Anthony Gray is convicted, the most severe punishment he could face is life without parole, he said. Other sentencing options for a jury would be life without parole for 25 years, or life imprisonment, in which the defendant would be eligible for parole in 20 years, Shaw said.
Shaw said the decision to take the death penalty off the table was not based on an American Bar Association report released Wednesday that said there are serious flaws in Kentucky's administration of executions.
Casey Holland, one of the public defenders who represents James Anthony Gray, welcomed the news that capital punishment is not an option.
"I think it is the right decision in this case, and we are certainly pleased," Holland said Friday. "I do applaud (prosecutors) for it, especially coming on the heels of the ABA report."
Aside from potentially sparing Gray's life, the decision also means that his trial, which was scheduled to start the first week of January, is now scheduled to start Jan. 17.
Under a scheduling order filed in November, Isaacs had set individual questioning of potential jurors from Jan. 5 through Jan. 12, with opening statements to begin on Jan. 17. Eliminating capital punishment as an option eliminates the requirement for individual questioning of potential jurors about their feelings on the death penalty.
Friday's events are the latest twist in a case that began April 26, 2007, when James E. Gray, 63, was found shot in the head twice and Vivian Gray, 55, was found shot in the head once. There appeared to be no forced entry into their home on Cincinnati Pike near Sadieville, although a safe was later determined to be missing.
James Anthony Gray, 42, the Grays' only child, was indicted in October 2007 on two counts of murder and one count of tampering with evidence. He is charged with the latter because he allegedly threw a .45-caliber handgun from a car after leaving the scene.
Gray confessed the crimes to investigators, but the defense wants to call a witness who will testify that the confession is false and unreliable.
Alan Hirsch, a professor at Williams College in Massachusetts who has written about police interrogations, said in a report prepared for the defense that he thinks Gray's confession is "highly unreliable."
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Keith Eardley filed a motion asking the judge to prevent Hirsch from testifying about false confessions and to prohibit Hirsch from offering an opinion about the reliability of Gray's confession.
Eardley told the judge that Hirsch is "not qualified as an expert in the field."
"I'm not sure how they can take that position," Holland said.
Isaacs said he would like to have a hearing on the questions raised by the prosecution, but no date was scheduled.
The judge also ruled that the prosecution will be allowed to introduce "multiple confessions" that Gray made to a fellow inmate in the Montgomery County Detention Center before Gray was charged in the slayings.
However, that testimony will come with an admonition to the jurors that they are not to consider the reasons the two men were in jail.
The prosecution also wants to introduce testimony about the missing safe. Relatives will testify that the Grays were preparing a will and that they were leaving their son "out of the will," Eardley said. "He wasn't getting anything."
The Grays' estate was worth $700,000 to $1 million, according to various figures cited in the court file, but a will was never found. Eardley said the will is thought to have been in the safe.