Mercer prosecutor seeks death penalty for man accused of killing ex-business partner

HARRODSBURG — Mercer County Commonwealth's Attorney Richie Bottoms has filed notice of his intention to seek the death penalty in the case of a Lexington man accused of shooting and killing his former business partner.

In a document filed Friday, Bottoms gave notice of his intention to seek the death penalty among a range of other punishments against James M. Kelley, 54, who is charged with murder in the shooting death of John "Bud" Dacci, 54, on Dec. 21, 2010 in Mercer County.

"By giving this notice, it is the intent of the commonwealth to put the defendant on notice that it reserves the right to seek all authorized punishments as set forth in (state law) for a capital offense, including death," life in prison without probation or parole, life in prison without probation or parole for 25 years, life in prison, or 20 to 50 years, the notice said.

State law requires an "aggravating circumstance" — an accompanying crime or circumstance — to make homicide eligible for the death penalty.

In this case, the commonwealth asserts that it will prove that Kelley committed murder while engaging in the robbery of Dacci and the burglary of Dacci's house.

Court records say Kelley forced his way into Dacci's house on Ashley Camp Road near Herrington Lake and shot Dacci. Maryann Dacci, John Dacci's wife, tried to escape, but Kelley prevented her from doing so and then shot her, court records say. When Kelley fled, Maryann Dacci called 911.

Dacci and Kelley had been business partners in Dacci Heating and Air Conditioning in Lexington. Kelley was listed as the secretary of the business until 2007, according to records in the Kentucky secretary of state's office.

The prosecution's notice to seek the death penalty follows the Kentucky Court of Appeals' rejection Sept. 18 of an appeal by the public defender who represents Kelley.

Kelley initially was found to be incompetent to stand trial, but after a later evaluation, Mercer Circuit Judge Darren Peckler found that Kelley was competent enough to participate. Public defender Susanne McCollough appealed that later ruling and sought to prohibit Peckler from enforcing the order in which he found Kelley competent to stand trial.

The appeals court ruled that "trial courts make the ultimate determination regarding a defendant's competency to stand trial." Furthermore, the appeals court ruled that Kelley, if convicted, may then appeal Peckler's determination of competency. And if Kelley's condition deteriorates, he "may request a review of his competency by the trial court at that time."

Kelley suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head on Dec. 22, the day after the Mercer County shootings. Kelley had shot himself outside a Richmond hospital.

Maryann Dacci filed a wrongful-death lawsuit last year against Kelley in which she said she is entitled to damages for pain and suffering, medical and funeral expenses, destruction of her husband's earning capacity, and other damages. That suit is pending in Mercer Circuit Court.

Kelley also faces charges of first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and first-degree burglary. A trial date has not been scheduled, but a status hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 13 in Harrodsburg.