The punishment of Michael M. Shepherd, convicted of murdering 18-year-old newlywed Megan Liebengood outside her Lexington apartment in 2004, will stand.
In a hearing Thursday, Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael denied a claim by Shepherd that he had ineffective legal counsel in the penalty phase of his 2006 trial and should get a new hearing on that portion of the case.
Shepherd, who is serving 25 years to life in prison for fatally shooting Liebengood, maintained that his lawyer at the time of the trial, J. Gregg Clendenin, should have called him, his mother, his aunt and others to the witness stand to provide positive testimony about him before jurors decided his fate.
"I thought Mr. Clendenin functioned as a zealous advocate," Ishmael said. The judge said that Shepherd's testifying on his own behalf would have been disastrous for Shepherd and that testimony by the other character witnesses under questioning by the prosecution would have put Shepherd in a worse light.
Shepherd's current attorney, Russell Baldani, asked witnesses at Thursday's hearing — including Shepherd and his mother, Mary Anthony — about Shepherd's having finished high school while he was incarcerated before the trial and counseling other youths not to travel the same path he had. Shepherd, who is now 22, was 16 at the time of the murder.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Cindy Rieker said the prosecution had shown many things in Shepherd's life that would have negated any positive testimony about him.
"Let's face it, Mr. Shepherd, you've assaulted a lot of people," she said.
"I had a rough childhood," Shepherd responded.
Liebengood's widower, Eric Liebengood; her mother; other family members and friends were in the courtroom.
"It's hard to be here again," Eric Liebengood said. "It brings everything back." But he said he had to come to court for Megan. Eric Liebengood said he has not remarried and is studying finance at Northern Kentucky University.
"He's already committed such a heinous crime," Megan Liebengood's mother, Vickie Pennington, said of Shepherd. "She's not had a chance to finish her life like him."
Ishmael sentenced Shepherd to life in prison with parole eligibility after 25 years. Robert B. Miller was convicted of wanton complicity to murder in connection with the robbery and slaying of Liebengood and sentenced to 40 years. The two were also convicted of robbery and tampering with evidence.
A third defendant, Patrick Cook, pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery. He testified against Miller and Shepherd in the murder trial.