Crime

Admitted Marshall County school shooter, now 16, resists adult murder charges

Gabriel Parker appeared in Marshall County Circuit Court at the Marshall County Judicial Building in Benton, Ky., Monday, March 12, 2018. Parker is accused of killing two of his classmates at Marshall County High School and wounding 14 others during a shooting on Jan. 23.
Gabriel Parker appeared in Marshall County Circuit Court at the Marshall County Judicial Building in Benton, Ky., Monday, March 12, 2018. Parker is accused of killing two of his classmates at Marshall County High School and wounding 14 others during a shooting on Jan. 23. AP

The judge overseeing the Marshall County High School shooting case did not rule Monday on a constitutional challenge from the defense, which argued suspect Gabe Parker should have his case remanded to juvenile court.

During the hearing Monday morning, defense attorney Tom Griffiths argued that the statute automatically transferring juveniles accused of using a firearm in commission of a felony to circuit court is unconstitutional when applied in Parker's case.

Parker, 16, has been indicted on two counts of murder and 14 counts of first-degree assault for the Jan. 23 shooting that took the lives of 15-year-old students Bailey Holt and Preston Cope. He was 15 when the shootings occurred.

Circuit Judge James Jameson heard arguments from Griffiths and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jacob Ford in the 40-minute hearing.

Kentucky's code specifies that if a juvenile is at least 14 years old and is accused of using a firearm during the commission of a felony, that juvenile must be transferred to circuit court and tried as an adult.

Griffiths said he believes that statute is unconstitutional because it robs the juvenile court of its discretion, citing federal and state appeals and supreme court opinions that have highlighted the need for discretion when dealing with juveniles.

"The juvenile law exists in order to protect kids. All kids," Griffiths said, adding he was surprised when the Feb. 9 juvenile court hearing lasted less than half an hour.

"Instead of doing a full hearing, instead of examining all eight factors, instead of going through as required by the juvenile code, they rushed through it in 25 minutes, and of that, judge, 10 minutes is testimony from a single witness."

The eight factors Griffiths referenced are found in Kentucky's code as a guideline for certifying juvenile cases to the circuit court if those cases don't meet the conditions for the automatic transfer.

Those factors that a judge must consider before transferring the case include the alleged offense's seriousness, whether the offense was against people or property (greater weight is given if people are victims), the child's maturity, the child's prior record, the best interest of both the child and the community, the prospect of the public's protection, whether the child can be reasonably rehabilitated and whether the child participated in a gang.

Griffiths reasoned, citing opinions from Kentucky's Supreme Court and appeals courts, that juvenile cases should be treated differently than adult cases, especially when the juvenile faces an "aggravated penalty."

Parker, if convicted, faces the maximum allowable penalty for juveniles of life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

Griffiths contended the automatic transfer rule should not exist, and the case should be sent back to juvenile court so the judge could consider and rule on all eight factors.

In his response Monday, Ford said the automatic transfer statute is appropriate. He also argued that the prosecution satisfied the eight-factor consideration in Parker's certification hearing.

"The juvenile code also protects the public. It protects the victims," he said.

Ford said the seriousness of the alleged offense and that the offense was committed against people rather than property satisfied the legal requirement that only two of the eight factors be met to make a transfer to circuit court appropriate.

He said the two factors that District Judge Jack Telle mentioned when transferring the case were undeniable, even if a hearing were held with an expert testifying regarding the other six factors.

"No expert in the world could come in and say this is not a serious offense. The murder of two children," he said.

He added that moving Parker's case to circuit court solely on the automatic transfer statute still would have been appropriate.

"He says it's a loophole. It's the law," Ford said, calling the issue "clear as day."

At the beginning of the hearing, Griffiths moved to continue the proceeding, citing the need to properly notify the Office of the Attorney General, which he said had not agreed to the timing of Monday's hearing.

Law requires notice to be given to the Attorney General's Office when filing a constitutional challenge to allow the office adequate time to respond.

Jameson did not enter a ruling regarding Griffith's motion to send the case back to juvenile court.

He said he would allow three weeks for the Attorney General's Office to respond and would then rule on the motion.

Parker's next court date is set for Aug. 3.

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