Trial postponed for man charged in Lexington cab driver's death

John D. Cherry Jr.
John D. Cherry Jr.

The murder trial of John Cherry, which was supposed to begin this week, was postponed until early next year because of the sudden resignation of an investigator at the Lexington public defender's office.

Cherry, 31, is accused of fatally shooting Amine Lemghaili, a Lexington cab driver, in the Woodhill neighborhood in March 2011. In addition to murder, Cherry faces a host of other charges in an apparently unrelated incident involving a gun and drugs.

Police have said Cherry shot Lemghaili after getting a ride to the Townhomes on Hedgewood Court. Police said he was on a bender at the time, having used cocaine, prescription pills and drank alcohol the night of the shooting.

Cherry is being represented by Lexington's Department of Public Advocacy. According to a motion filed by the defense team Sept. 5, the investigator working on Cherry's case accepted a job in Georgia and put in her two-weeks notice on Aug. 31.

"It would be a breach of counsel's ethical duty to Mr. Cherry in this case to proceed to trial without an investigator working on his case and participating in trial," the motion said.

Judge Pamela Goodwine rescheduled the trial for Jan. 28 through 31. Jury selection initially was supposed to have taken place Friday, with the trial taking several days next week.

It was the second time the trial has been postponed. Goodwine granted an earlier continuance in March.

The request to continue the trial was the latest of seven motions filed by the public defender's office on Cherry's behalf during the 11/2 years his trial has been pending. The other motions either sought to suppress evidence and statements prejudicial to Cherry, or sought the disclosure of evidence necessary for Cherry's defense, the defense motions said.

On Dec. 2, public defenders Erica Roland and Lucas Roberts filed a motion saying Cherry's confession to police was "illegally obtained" and asked that it not be shown to jurors. According to police and court records, Cherry told police he remembered being in a cab and firing a gun, but not killing Lemghaili.

Cherry was arrested hours after Lemghaili's murder for an apparently unrelated incident. According to court documents, he had fired a gun near a woman in the parking lot of Wal-Mart on Russell Cave Road. He was arrested at the scene with a stolen gun, pills and marijuana in his possession, the documents said.

Following Cherry's arrest on those charges, police interviewed him at the Fayette County Detention Center about Lemghaili's murder. According to court documents, Cherry agreed to the interview, waived his Miranda rights and refused to have an attorney present.

At the time, Cherry was still drunk and high on several drugs, the motion said. During the interview, he told police he had taken Klonapin, cocaine, marijuana and acid, and he had gone drinking at four bars.

His attorneys argued his confession was not willingly given because his will was "overborne by intoxicants." They noted he readily answered the detective's questions, accepted fault for events he could not remember and tailored his confession "to the whims of his interrogators."

In another motion filed Sept. 5, the defense team asked to review records regarding Lemghaili's alleged history with prescription drugs.

According to the motion, police found a bottle of pills in a compartment in Lemghaili's cab. The motion did not speculate whether the cab driver had a prescription for the pills, but asked to review reports from KASPER, a state monitoring system for prescription drugs, to determine Lemghaili's history.

The motion noted that several unnamed witnesses said they saw Lemghaili's cab in the Woodhill neighborhood, "a high-crime area, known for drug trafficking," in the weeks before the shooting.

"If Mr. Lemghaili was engaged in drug trafficking, either as a buyer or a seller, that information could be exculpatory for Mr. Cherry's defense," the motion said.

Goodwine overruled both of those motions, as well as others regarding victim's impact statements, jury selection and statements from a police informant.

The motions to reschedule the trial have been the only motions Goodwine has upheld in favor of the defense.

Cherry is being held at the Fayette County Detention Center on charges of murder, unlawful imprisonment, carrying a concealed deadly weapon, possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, receiving stolen property, trafficking marijuana, trafficking in a controlled substance and possessing prescription drugs not in their original container.

If convicted on the murder charge alone, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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