Judge denies motion for Helton's release

NICHOLASVILLE — A judge rejected a motion Friday to release a woman from prison because her 24-year sentence for wanton murder was overturned recently by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Jessamine Circuit Judge Hunter Daugherty said evidence of Melissa Helton's guilt "is greater than when she entered her original plea," and he turned down defense attorney Ed Dove's motion to have Helton released.

"We need to wait till we get the final opinion back" from the Kentucky Supreme Court, Daugherty said.

Helton pleaded guilty to four counts of wanton murder after a drunken-driving crash in 2006. On Aug. 27, the Kentucky Supreme Court said investigators erred by taking a blood sample from Helton without her consent and without a warrant.

On Aug. 22, 2006, Helton was driving a minivan that crashed and killed her 12-year-old son, Nicholas, and two other children — Emily Ann Preston, 10, and Caleb Hildenbrandt, 11. Lori Latham, 40, a passenger in the van, died in November 2006 of injuries from the crash.

The group was returning from a local swimming spot when the minivan ran off the road, hit a tree and burst into flames.

Helton's blood-alcohol content was 0.16, or twice the legal limit of 0.08, according to Kentucky State Police.

Dove, Helton's attorney, had asked Daugherty not to allow the blood sample into evidence in the case. When Daugherty refused, Helton entered a conditional guilty plea that reserved her right to appeal on a claim that her blood was drawn without a search warrant.

The Supreme Court ordered Daugherty to conduct a new suppression hearing to determine whether evidence exists that shows investigators had reasonable grounds to think alcohol was involved in the accident. The issue is whether police had probable cause to think Helton was drunk before the blood test was done.

Dove had sought to have Helton released pending that new hearing.

Several relatives of Emily Ann Preston attended Friday morning's brief proceeding. Her grandfather, Bud Preston, wearing a T-shirt with Emily Ann's photo, was pleased with the judge's decision.

"That's what we were looking for," Preston said. "It's too big of a crime just to turn it loose."

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