Lexington man sentenced to life for killing former business partner

James M. Kelley shot himself in the head one day after killing John 'Bud' Dacci.
James M. Kelley shot himself in the head one day after killing John 'Bud' Dacci. Lexington Herald-Leader

HARRODSBURG — A Lexington man was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole after pleading guilty to the 2010 shooting death of his former business partner.

James M. Kelley, 55, entered an Alford plea in the death of John "Bud" Dacci, 54. In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that there is enough evidence to convict him.

By entering the Alford plea, Kelley avoids the possibility of facing the death penalty had he been convicted at trial.

Under the plea agreement approved by Mercer Circuit Judge Darren Peckler, Kelley received 20 years in prison on each of three other charges: first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and first-degree burglary. All the charges are to run concurrently with the life sentence.

According to court records, 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.

After the shooting of Dacci in Mercer County on Dec. 21, 2010, Kelley suffered a traumatic brain injury the next day as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Kelley had shot himself outside a Richmond hospital.

Kelley was initially found incompetent to stand trial, but after a later evaluation, Judge Peckler found Kelley competent to participate in his own defense. An appeals court upheld Peckler's decision.

During Tuesday's proceeding, Peckler asked Kelley whether the plea agreement is what he wanted. Kelley answered "Yes."

"I guess the facts show what happened although I don't remember it because of my head injury," Kelley said in court. "That's the reason for the Alford plea."

Defense attorney Tom Griffiths said after the sentencing that the motive for the shooting might never be known. Griffiths said Kelley has "no memory" of the shooting.

The Alford plea was a satisfactory outcome, Griffiths said, because "this case has been around for more than two years, and he (Kelley) needed to have resolution and the victim's family needed to have resolution of the case."

Maryann Dacci filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2011 against Kelley, claiming that she is entitled to damages for pain and suffering, medical and funeral expenses, destruction of her husband's earning capacity, and other damages.

Luke Morgan, the Lexington lawyer who represents Maryann Dacci, said Tuesday that the suit will be dismissed.

"Maryann is dismissing the civil lawsuit that she brought in an effort for her to move forward with her life," Morgan said.

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.

Relatives of Dacci declined to comment after the proceeding.