Two families victimized by a shooting shared grief and relief Friday when Gilbert Uccardia Holts Jr. pleaded guilty to two counts of murder.
In entering his plea before Warren Circuit Judge Steve Wilson, Holts, 32, of Lexington, admitted causing the deaths of Jamaal Covington and Latasia Kirk on April 21, 2005.
Surviving relatives of the two victims took up two rows of seats in the courtroom and wept quietly as Holts answered “yes, sir” or “no, sir” to Wilson’s questions in a clear, deep voice.
Holts, represented by James Rhorer and Pat Roemer of the Department of Public Advocacy, reached an agreement with Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron that will recommend life imprisonment with parole eligibility after serving 20 years.
Cohron had recently filed paperwork intending to seek either life without parole or life with parole eligibility after 25 years for Holts if the case had gone to trial.
The guilty plea brought a measure of justice to Sharon Jones, Kirk’s aunt.
“I feel confident that in 20 years (Holts) won’t make parole,” Jones said after Friday’s change of plea hearing.
Relatives coping with the deaths of Covington and Kirk said the court hearings were difficult for them emotionally, dredging up memories of the tragic news they received nearly eight years ago.
“Every day we come here, when their names are brought up, it still feels like yesterday,” Jones said.
Covington and Kirk were found shot to death at Willow Creek Apartments, 1029 Shive Lane. Covington was 26. Kirk turned 21 on the date of her death.
The pair had a son together, who Jones said is now 8 years old and is raised by a niece of hers.
“He’s a bright little boy,” said Jones, adding that he has autism and asks often about his mother. “Latasia still lives through him ... he really has all her traits.”
A medical examiner determined Covington died from multiple gunshot wounds to the head and Kirk died from a single gunshot wound to the head, according to Holts’ arrest warrant.
At the time of the deaths, Covington was living in an apartment that was leased in Holts’ name, according to the warrant.
The Bowling Green Police Department investigated the double homicide jointly with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In January 2010, a “cooperating defendant” not named in court records contacted ATF Special Agent David Hayes and said he knew who shot Covington and Kirk.
Four months later, Hayes and BGPD Detective Barry Raley met with the man, who said he was outside the apartment when Covington and Kirk were killed and heard gunshots, according to the warrant.
The cooperating defendant later became a confidential informant for Hayes and established telephone contact with Holts, and several telephone conversations were recorded between the two men.
The informant later met with Holts and held a recorded conversation in which Holts talked about being questioned by police and refusing to take a polygraph, the warrant stated.
Holts told the informant how he killed Covington and Kirk and that he had hoped in the days following the homicides that the informant would not tell anyone, according to the warrant.
Holts was arrested March 29, 2011, in Lexington.
He is scheduled to be formally sentenced March 22.
Cohron lauded the investigative work of law enforcement, led here by Raley, who is now retired from BGPD.
“This was a case in which there was some question as to whether or not it would ever be solved,” Cohron said. “The hard work of the Bowling Green Police Department helped bring about this resolution.”
Jones and Raley hugged after the hearing, with Jones tearfully thanking Raley for keeping his promise to solve the case.
Later, Jones said Raley kept in frequent contact with her about developments in the investigation. “I feel like he put more than 100 percent into this case,” Jones said. “This is a detective that has sat and prayed with me and comforted me ... he’s been my Superman.”
Canesha Gatewood, Covington’s sister, echoed Jones’ praise for Raley and the rest of law enforcement. “Without him, we wouldn’t be standing here today seeing justice,” Gatewood said.
In December, Jones spoke at a community rally organized in response to a pair of recent homicides in which the victims had been shot.
Her message then, urging anyone with information about unsolved violent crimes to share what they know with police, was repeated Friday.
“When it comes to losing a loved one, think of what you would do,” Jones said. “There’s a difference between a snitch and a coward.”