FRANKFORT — A jury found Alastair Couch guilty Monday of murder in the 2010 shooting death of Tomma Graves, a Franklin County victim’s advocate.
The jury also found Couch, 34, guilty of tampering with evidence for throwing the murder weapon over a cliff in rural Franklin County.
The jury, which took about two hours to reach the verdict, took 30 minutes to return a recommended sentence of 50 years in prison for murder, plus 10 years for the tampering charge. The sentences are recommended to be served consecutively, for a total of 60 years.
Couch will be eligible for parole in 20 years. This was not a death penalty case because there was no “aggravating circumstance,” such as robbery, in addition to the murder charge.
Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate scheduled sentencing for Aug. 26.
Graves, 37, was found shot to death in her pickup truck on Aug. 2, 2010, in a parking lot in downtown Frankfort. She had counseled victims of domestic violence since 2007 for the county attorney and commonwealth’s attorney.
Couch told the jury Friday that Graves was shot by a masked man dressed all in black, and that he had struggled with the man inside the truck cab as shots struck Graves.
In her closing argument Monday, Special Prosecutor Shawna Kincer called Couch’s story “the most preposterous, utterly absurd story ever.”
“She’s dead because he murdered her,” Kincer said.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Mark Bubenzer said the prosecution had not met the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Couch killed Graves.
“The prosecution was unable to tell you where, when, why or by whom,” Bubenzer said.
But Kincer countered that the evidence, although circumstantial, all pointed to Couch as the person who killed Graves on July 31, 2010. The two had had an on-again, off-again relationship since Couch had come to Franklin County from Memphis to attend Kentucky State University.
Kincer acknowledged that the prosecution could not provide a motive but that the commonwealth is not obligated to answer why Graves was killed.
“Only the defendant knows the answer to that question,” Kincer said.
During the penalty phase of the trial, the seven men and five women on the jury learned more about Couch’s criminal history.
For example, Couch was convicted in 2004 of kidnapping, felony evading of arrest and aggravated assault in Jackson, Tenn., Special Prosecutor Ray Larson said.
Couch’s six-year sentence was probated, and he served 11 months and 29 days in jail, Larson told the jury.
Later, Couch was convicted on misdemeanor charges in Franklin County of trafficking in marijuana, fourth-degree assault, and criminal attempt to commit forgery.
The jury used that information to find Couch to be a persistent felony offender, and thus to enhance the recommended sentence on the tampering charge to 10 years in prison, an increase of five years.
In his argument for the greatest possible sentence, Larson told the jury that relatives of Graves “have a life sentence of grief, sorrow, only memories and no possibility of parole.”
After the trial was over, Lorene “Beanie” Jackson, a cousin of Graves, said she thought justice had been served but expressed regret that no one will know why Graves was killed.
“The only thing we want to know, that we will never figure out, is why,” Jackson said. “We have no clue whatsoever. But Tomma can rest in peace now, and we can all try to pick up the pieces and move on with our lives. It’s been a long year.”
Larson, Kincer and Kimberly Baird of the Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office were special prosecutors. Franklin County Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland recused himself from the case because he had worked with Graves.