Wanting to leave prison on parole, John Paul Works said Tuesday he panicked and “made a horrible choice,” when he shot Harrodsburg police officer Regina Nickles 20 years ago.
Parole board member Caroline Mudd reminded him that he shot twice — hitting Nickles both times in the chest.
“Why did you feel like you had to shoot her twice, sir?” Mudd asked as she and board member Lee VanHoose interviewed Works, before deliberating about five minutes.
The two-member panel postponed a parole decision, announcing the full nine-member board will rule Aug. 20.
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Nickles, 45, became the Harrodsburg department’s first female police officer in 1983, and she was the first female officer in Kentucky to be killed in the line of duty. At the time of her death, she was a candidate for Mercer County sheriff.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Works appeared via a teleconference link from Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty. Mudd recounted the shooting with Works.
The shooting happened on Oct. 14, 1998, shortly after Nickles and officer Eric Barkman were called to the Trim Masters factory in Harrodsburg about midnight to investigate the report of a prowler.
According to court testimony, officers found Works lying in the field. When they put a spotlight on him, he rose up and shot Nickles twice. Barkman answered with two shots, wounding Works in the right arm and left thigh. Nickles had not taken her gun out of the holster.
Works was convicted of murder in a 2000 trial in Danville. He was ordered to serve life in prison but was given the chance for parole. Tuesday’s hearing was his first appearance before a parole panel.
Works said Tuesday that he went to the factory because he wanted to speak to his girlfriend when she was on break. The two had argued earlier in the day, and Works said he had wanted to “smooth things out.”
“You had to take a police officer’s life because everything in your world was spiraling out of control?” Mudd asked after Works initially said emotions and impulse drove him to fire at Nickles.
“I didn’t even realize how many times I pulled the trigger,” Works said. “I just ... I panicked. I made a horrible choice. I fired the gun. I accept full responsibility for that. I wish I could travel back in time and undo what I’ve done. I think about this every day.”
Mudd asked Works why he didn’t leave the Trim Masters property.
“That’s been going through my mind ever since that moment in time,” Works said.
Works, 42, said he has learned how to manage his anger since his incarceration. He occupies his time by “doing a lot of drawing. I do portraits and wildlife.”
“Do you think you should be paroled today?” Mudd asked.
“I know I would love to be given an opportunity to go back to my family and see my family,” Works said. “I know that I won’t disappoint you, that I will never, ever commit a crime again. I know that for a fact.”
“Do you know how many times I hear that, Mr. Works?” Mudd responded.
If released from prison, Works said he would live with relatives in Corning, N.Y., where he would work in landscaping.
Works had been a high school basketball star in New York but he said he was thrown out of a college because of “a physical altercation with another teammate.” He came to Kentucky to work in a factory and “straighten my life out,” but two months before the Nickles shooting, Works struck a man with a golf club. The man’s arm and collarbone were fractured.
The Department of Corrections recommended that Works go through substance-abuse treatment, but Works has not done that. VanHoose asked why.
“I made a personal choice I will never do it again,” Works said. “If I wanted to continue that path, I could be doing it in here. ... Everybody knows there’s drugs and alcohol in the prison systems.”
VanHoose told Works that just because he’s not using drugs or alcohol in prison doesn’t mean he won’t if he was released.
Mercer County Sheriff Ernie Kelty, who was Harrodsburg police chief at the time Nickles died, and Nickles’ relatives addressed the parole board on Monday. Victim hearings before the parole board are typically closed to the public. Kelty also attended Tuesday’s hearing.
The National Police Association issued a public statement in July opposing the release of Works from prison.