Mercer judge delays trial for man accused of killing ex-girlfriend's mother

HARRODSBURG — The trial of a man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend's mother has been postponed for the fourth time.

Jury selection was to begin Monday in the case of Paul Estes, 40, who has been in custody for four years. But on Thursday, Mercer Circuit Judge Darren Peckler delayed the trial until a new defense attorney can be appointed for Estes.

A new attorney is necessary because Peckler granted a request by Susanne McCollough to be relieved from the Estes case due to "ethical considerations" related to her testimony in a suppression hearing also held Thursday.

Estes is accused of killing Debora Brooks, 43, in 2009 by smothering her as she slept. The case was initially a death-penalty case because police thought Estes and his ex-girlfriend Megan Brooks wanted her mother dead to collect insurance money.

During the suppression hearing, Estes was represented by Rebecca Lytle. Estes had submitted the motion for a suppression hearing. He did so because he was apparently advised by McCollough's supervisor that McCollough had provided "ineffectual counsel" in permitting Estes to confess to police.

Megan Brooks, 26, pleaded guilty in 2011 to an amended charge of second-degree manslaughter, hindering prosecution or apprehension, and tampering with evidence.

Under her plea deal, Megan Brooks is serving 10 years in prison on the manslaughter charge, five years on hindering prosecution, and two years on tampering with evidence. The sentences are being served consecutively, for a total of 17 years. She was denied parole in 2012 and is up for parole again in December 2014, according to the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

Thursday's suppression hearing was held because Estes doesn't want a jury to hear about a confession he gave to then-Harrodsburg Police Lt. Detective Garry Bradshaw on Aug. 10, 2009, at the Boyle County Detention Center. The statement was made two days after Estes was charged with murder.

Estes took the witness stand briefly during the hearing. When questioned by Commonwealth's Attorney Richie Bottoms, Estes denied that he was angry that Megan Brooks received a more favorable deal. Estes has rejected a commonwealth's offer of life without parole for 25 years.

The bulk of the testimony came from McCollough, who was present with Estes when he gave the statement to the detective.

Reading from notes she wrote in 2009, McCollough said her understanding from Bottoms was that, if Megan Brooks had "set up" her mother's death, the death penalty would be removed as a possibility for Estes. Estes waived his right against self-incrimination.

"He's the one who wanted to give a statement," McCollough said.

Estes wanted to talk because he was remorseful, wanted to "get right with God," and because he was concerned that Brooks faced imminent release from jail and might try to harm his family, McCollough said. Estes confirmed this is in his testimony.

Nevertheless, Peckler denied the motion to suppress the confession, so it will be heard at trial.

At the conclusion of the suppression hearing, McCollough asked to be relieved as defense counsel for Estes.

"I just think there is an appearance of conflict of interest because I've had to testify in this hearing," McCollough said.

Peckler granted McCollough's request. He also criticized McCollough's supervisor, who was not in court, for acting "to sabotage" McCollough's attorney-client relationship with Estes.

McCollough and Estes made it clear in their separate testimonies that they have no problem with each other.

McCollough, Bottoms and Lytle declined to talk about the case after hearing. They cited a gag order from Peckler that prohibits attorneys from discussing the case with reporters.

Previous trial dates for Estes in December 2011, May 2012 and August 2012 were delayed.

The judge scheduled Aug. 27 for a status hearing.