Judge postpones Lexington murder trial awaiting higher court ruling on death penalty

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine
Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine Herald-Leader

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine granted a prosecution motion Friday to postpone a murder trial so that a higher court can decide whether she had discretion to remove the death penalty from a jury's consideration.

That means the trial for co-defendants Trustin B. Jones and Robert Guernsey will not start on June 1 as had been scheduled.

Last week, Goodwine granted a defense motion to exclude execution from the jury's sentencing options in the trial of Jones, 21, and Guernsey, 34. They had faced the possibility of execution if convicted in the 2013 shooting death of Derek Pelphrey, 23, a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

Earlier this week, Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson had filed a notice of his intent to appeal Goodwine's decision. He also filed a motion asking Goodwine for a stay or temporary suspension of a trial until a higher court ruled on his appeal.

During a brief hearing on Friday, Goodwine said it would be an "exercise in futility" to rule against Larson's appeal because prosecutors would only seek a writ of prohibition from the Kentucky Supreme Court to keep her from proceeding to trial.

No one knows how long a higher court will take to decide whether Goodwine had discretion to take the death penalty off the table.

"Now that the proceedings have been delayed until a decision is made by the appellate courts, we're anxious for that decision," Larson said.

Sam Cox, co-counsel for Trustin Jones, had no comment after Friday's hearing.

In the meantime, Goodwine scheduled a Tuesday hearing on whether a third co-defendant, Desmond Jones, should have a reduced bond.

Desmond Jones, 24, a cousin of Trustin Jones, pleaded guilty in April to criminal facilitation to first-degree robbery. A murder charge against him was dismissed. His recommended sentence is five years in prison.

But a condition of his plea agreement is that he must testify at the trial of Trustin Jones and Guernsey.

Now that their trial has been postponed, Rawl Kazee, the attorney for Desmond Jones, wants a hearing for Goodwine to consider bond reduction for his client. Desmond Jones remains in jail.