A man has admitted helping to dispose of the body of a reputed informant slain in Clay County, meaning he could become a key witness against the alleged head of a large drug ring and a man charged as a paid killer.
Renus Vernon "Red" Delph said he saw Gerald Lee "Jerry" Sizemore hold Eli Marcum around the neck and stab him so deeply that Sizemore "effectively skewered" Marcum's midsection, according to court documents.
A federal grand jury charged that Sizemore and Delph conspired with Jimmy D. Benge to kill Marcum because the three suspected that he had given information to police about Benge's drug operation.
Benge paid, or at least offered to pay, Sizemore to kill Marcum, the indictment charged.
The grand jury made special findings under which prosecutors could seek the death penalty for Benge, Sizemore and Delph, although Delph has avoided that potential by pleading guilty.
Delph's attorney, Benjamin D. Dusing, declined to comment on whether the plea agreement requires Delph to help prosecutors.
That's a standard provision of such deals.
Federal death-penalty prosecutions are rare in the federal district that covers the eastern half of Kentucky, including Lexington.
It appears that there have been only two cases involving slayings outside prisons that were charged as capital cases in the district in recent years.
In addition to the Benge case, the other involves Eugene Slone, who allegedly headed a drug ring responsible for distributing hundreds of thousands of pills.
Slone is charged with killing Davey Sparkman and Keisha Sexton in Knott County in July 2012 because he suspected that they had given authorities information on his drug activities.
Their bodies were found in a burned truck at an abandoned mine site.
In the federal court system, prosecutors can recommend a death sentence, but the U.S. attorney general ultimately makes the decision.
And unlike in the state system, defense attorneys have a chance during that review process to argue against letting prosecutors seek a death sentence.
In Slone's case, Attorney General Eric Holder decided this year that the government should not seek a death sentence against Slone.
That's not unusual. Since Congress authorized the death penalty in drug-kingpin cases in 1988, prosecutors have been authorized to seek the death penalty against 495 people out of more than 2,500 who could have been eligible, according to information cited by the Death Penalty Information Center and the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel.
Congress added a number of crimes eligible for death in the federal system in 1994, including the murder of a witness, victim or informant.
Slone is scheduled for trial in January, and he would face life in prison if convicted. He allegedly paid for carloads of people to go to clinics in Florida to get prescriptions for pills that Slone and others then sold in several Eastern Kentucky counties.
Slone has maintained his innocence. Several other people charged in the case have pleaded guilty.
Holder, who is set to step down, has not announced whether he will authorize seeking a death sentence for Benge.
Benge is charged with leading a drug conspiracy in Clay County from September 2011 to October 2012 in which addicts went to out-of-state clinics to get prescriptions for pain pills and filled them to get pills to sell and abuse.
One woman who pleaded guilty in the case, Suzanne Fox, said she and Benge paid expenses for people to go to the clinics, and then took half the pills — after expenses — to sell.
Douglas I. Dalrymple, an investigator on the case, said in a sworn statement that someone involved in the conspiracy told Benge in early 2012 that Marcum, known as "Big Eli," had leaked information about the ring.
Sometime later, Delph was told that Marcum was a "rat" and learned that Benge planned to pay Sizemore to kill him, according to Delph's plea deal.
Benge was indicted in November 2012.
Delph, who pleaded guilty last week, said that on Dec. 2, 2012, he and Marcum were at Sizemore's house and that Sizemore asked for a flashlight so he could see to crush up a pill to snort.
As Delph walked away, he heard Marcum say, "Jerry, you're killing me," and Delph turned to see Sizemore stabbing Marcum.
Marcum pleaded "Help me, Red," in a gurgled voice and grabbed Delph's arm, but he pulled away, and Sizemore and Marcum fell to the ground, according to the court document.
Sizemore offered Delph $4,000 to help him get rid of Marcum's body, Delph said.
Delph got an all-terrain vehicle, and he and Sizemore loaded Marcum's body, which was wrapped in what appeared to be a tent.
They drove to a spot on an ATV trail called Saw Mill Hollow Road, where Sizemore dragged the body a short distance, poured some flammable liquid on it and set it on fire, Delph said.
Marcum's daughter told police two or three days later that her father was missing. Searchers found his body Dec. 8. In addition to the stab wound, his throat had been cut, according to a court document.
Benge and Sizemore have pleaded not guilty.
Their attorneys have argued to have the charges dismissed because a state police detective who investigated — and has since resigned — threw away a small knife that was lying on the trail about a quarter-mile from where Marcum was found, and a piece of telephone cord a few feet from Marcum's head.
If the items had been available for testing, defense attorneys might have been able to show that Benge and Sizemore were not involved in the murder, the attorneys argued.
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason D. Parman, has argued against dismissing the charges, saying the detective had no reason to think the items were of any value in the case.
A hearing on the issue is scheduled for next month.