Crime

Teen apologizes for stepmother’s Kentucky slaying. Father objects to delay in sentencing.

Phillip Oakley, father of Jenna Oakley, expresses frustration after court

Friday's delay in sentencing his daughter Jenna Oakley, 17, in the death of her stepmother frustrated Oakley's father. He's also been critical of the 15-year sentence Jenna is getting in the manslaughter plea deal.
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Friday's delay in sentencing his daughter Jenna Oakley, 17, in the death of her stepmother frustrated Oakley's father. He's also been critical of the 15-year sentence Jenna is getting in the manslaughter plea deal.

The 17-year-old who pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter in the death of her stepmother said in court Friday that she is sorry.

“I cannot tell you how sorry I am that I did not try to save her that day,” Jenna Oakley said as she read a letter to Boyle Circuit Judge Darren Peckler.

“I’m also sorry for all the pain, hurt, anger and frustration that it has caused,” Oakley said. “... I have come to accept accountability for my inaction of not trying to help and save her that day when she needed most to be saved.”

Oakley was scheduled for final sentencing Friday, but Judge Peckler decided to postpone sentencing to March 27. The delay came after defense attorneys asked that Oakley be committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice for treatment instead of prison.

Oakley will turn 18 on March 2.

The delay frustrated Phillip Oakley, Jenna’s father, who is estranged from his daughter and who said last month that her sentence was too short.

“I think they’ve had two years, two and a half years to seek treatment if they wanted treatment,” Phillip Oakley said. “... She needs to go to prison. That’s what she deserves.”

Phillip Oakley said Friday was the first time he has heard his daughter express remorse for what happened.

On Sept. 1, 2016, Rhonda Oakley, 52, was found dead in her Boyle County home. (Phillip Oakley previously said Rhonda Oakley had worked at RR Donnelley in Danville for 30 years.)

Suspicion immediately fell on then 15-year-old Jenna, her teen-age step-daughter, and Kenneth Nigh, an adult who was sexually involved with Jenna.

Two days later, Jenna and Nigh were arrested in Tucumcari, New Mexico. They were found with Rhonda Oakley’s Honda Civic. Two days after that, Nigh hung himself in his jail cell and later died at a hospital.

Jenna was detained for nine days in a juvenile detention center before she was transported to Kentucky. She was indicted on charges of complicity to murder and complicity to theft by unlawful taking of $10,000 or more.

She pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter, a lesser charge, and theft.

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Commonwealth’s Attorney Richie Bottoms had recommended 10 years on the manslaughter and five years on theft, for a total of 15 years.

Public defenders said Friday that a judge has three options when sentencing a ”youthful offender” who has pleaded guilty to a felony.

The offender can be placed on probation or conditional discharge; the offender can be returned to the custody of the state Department of Juvenile Justice to complete a treatment program; or the offender can be incarcerated in a state prison.

A judge has multiple times to make the decision. First, at the offender’s initial sentencing upon conviction or plea; second, upon the offender’s 18th birthday; third, upon the offender reaching the age 18 years and five months.

If a youthful offender has not turned 18, a judge is restricted to either probating a sentence or committing a youthful offender to the Department of Juvenile Justice, public defender Erica Roland said.

Roland said she was not asking for probation. But Jenna Oakley should be committed to Juvenile Justice until she is 18 years and five months old, she said.

Jenna “has the aptitude and the ability to be a very different person” if she were to get treatment and counseling, Roland said in her oral argument.

Bottoms, the prosecutor, disagreed.

“We think the proper thing to happen is for her to go to an adult institution as soon as possible,” Bottoms said.

For the immediate future, Jenna Oakley will return to a youth development center in Adair County.

Greg Kocher has been at the Lexington Herald-Leader since 1997. He covers state and federal courts, and some breaking news. From 1997 to 2016, he was a regional reporter who covered counties adjacent to Fayette County.


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