Garrard group-home resident charged in fellow resident's death

One man is dead and another in jail, charged with murder, after a "physical altercation" late Sunday night at a group home for the mentally retarded in southern Garrard County, Kentucky State Police said.

Shawn K. Akridge, 35, of Paint Lick was taken to St. Joseph Berea Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, state police said in a news release.

Charged with murder is Chester Watkins, 32, also of Paint Lick, police said. He was being held in the Lincoln County jail.

Watkins, appearing via video Monday from the Lincoln County jail, pleaded not guilty during an arraignment in Garrard District Court.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 20 in Garrard District Court. At that time, Judge Janet Booth will hear evidence to determine whether there is probable cause for the case to go to a grand jury for possible indictment.

Shortly before 10:30 p.m. Sunday, state police were called to Wallacetown Road near Paint Lick to a house operated by Community Ties of America, where the two men were residents. Akridge apparently was strangled, said Trooper Chris Lanham, spokesman for the Richmond state police post.

"We know he was strangled, but we don't know if that was the cause of death," Lanham said. "The worker there advised us that when he saw the altercation, the perpetrator was on top of the victim, choking him."

A Web site for Community Ties of America said it is "dedicated to the development of a compassionate, comprehensive, community-based approach to serving people with special health care needs."

The Paint Lick site is a group home for the mentally retarded and others with "intellectual disabilities" that housed no more than three or four people at a time, said Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

"It's an alternative to institutional care," Midkiff said. "It's not a state facility, but it does receive state funding, and it receives federal funding, but it's a private provider. The facility is certified by the state Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities."

Community Ties of America operates three homes in Kentucky, Midkiff said. The Garrard County home has been open since August 2010, she said.

The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services is investigating the incident, Midkiff said.

An autopsy was conducted Monday in Frankfort, but state police did not release the cause of death.

No bond had been set for Watkins, but he was to have a video arraignment Monday afternoon.

According to state police annual reports and Herald-Leader archives, Garrard County has not had any murders reported since 2008.

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