RUSSELLVILLE – On the morning his murder trial was set to begin, Demetrius Roberson’s defense team was ordered off the case by the trial judge.
Logan Circuit Judge Tyler Gill announced in his courtroom to the jury pool that the trial was postponed after public defenders Michael Bufkin and Audrey Woosnam indicated during a conference in the judge’s chambers that they believed they could not effectively represent Roberson and would not be ready to proceed.
Roberson, 25, is charged with murder, attempted murder, first-degree robbery and nine counts of first-degree wanton endangerment in connection with the death of Lexus Bell, 21, who was shot Aug. 21, 2016, at her residence in Russellville’s Robinwood Apartments.
Four co-defendants accused along with Roberson have pleaded guilty to various criminal counts.
Roberson faces a maximum sentence of life without parole if convicted.
Gill said attorney Nathan Beard of the Department of Public Advocacy has been appointed to head Roberson’s defense and that he will consider contempt proceedings against Roberson’s former court-appointed lawyers.
“It’s become an ethical issue and a contempt issue,” Gill said in court. “Mr. Roberson does not trust his attorneys ... he has a right to have confidence in his attorneys and a right to have a fair trial.”
The judge threatened Bufkin with contempt when the attorney attempted to object as Gill summed up for potential jurors the events leading to the trial’s postponement.
Before excusing the jury pool, Gill said he believed that empaneling a jury Monday that returned a guilty verdict would amount to “wasted time” because he was certain a conviction would be overturned on appeal.
“I’m embarrassed for the legal system and we will take action to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Gill said.
Bell’s stepfather, Kevin Morrow, was frustrated with the sudden development.
“This is sickening,” said Morrow, of Russellville, as he left the courtroom. “We’ve had to relive this for three years.”
Roberson’s defense team had sought recently to have the trial continued from its July 8 start, arguing at a hearing last week that they did not have adequate time to review CDs containing evidence that had been turned over to them by the Logan County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.
Bufkin said last week that the CDs from the prosecution appeared to be blank, but when pressed by the judge on the matter, Bufkin said the CDs came into his possession at some point last year and Woosnam said they first noticed the CDs did not play within the past few weeks as they reviewed evidence.
Logan County Commonwealth’s Attorney Neil Kerr said Monday that the problem appeared to be that incompatible computer equipment used by the defense team prevented the data on the CDs from appearing.
Gill, who is retiring at the end of the month, had authorized $130,000 in state funds to be used by the Department of Public Advocacy for its investigation.
In addition to the problems with viewing evidence, Roberson’s defense team disclosed Monday that they had been unable to interview a few of their witnesses.
Gill questioned Bufkin about why that development was not mentioned in Bufkin’s motion last week to continue the trial.
“Why would you not be fully truthful with the court?” Gill asked.
Bufkin responded that he felt he had stated sufficient grounds to support a continuance.
Roberson’s defense team had also unsuccessfully sought a competency hearing and funds for a mental health expert who would evaluate Roberson.
In court filings, Roberson’s attorneys expressed concern about unspecified “intellectual disabilities.”
Bufkin said a lack of resources in the public defender’s office had not allowed him and Woosnam a reasonable amount of time to prepare for trial, though he was prepared to continue representing Roberson should the trial be continued.
Roberson at one point faced the death penalty after notice of intent to seek that punishment was filed by former Commonwealth’s Attorney Justin Crocker.
Bufkin and Woosnam, who are Capital Trial Attorneys with the Department of Public Advocacy, were appointed to represent Roberson after the case was certified for the death penalty.
Kerr, who defeated Crocker in last year’s election, removed the death penalty as an option.
Gill said Monday in court that certain allegations that supported making this a death penalty case turned out not to be true.
In court Monday, Kerr said his overriding concern was to avoid putting Bell’s family through an appeals process that could lead to a retrial.
“I want this to happen just one time for this family,” Kerr said.
In a statement released by his office Monday afternoon, Kerr said that, after that morning’s meeting in the judge’s chambers, there was a “150 percent chance” that any conviction would have been reversed on appeal if the trial had proceeded as scheduled.
GLASGOW – Jennifer Arbogast was introduced Monday as Glasgow’s new chief of police.
At a Glasgow City Council meeting, former Glasgow Police Department Chief Guy Howie might have escaped some people’s notice at first, clad in a purple dress shirt rather than the uniform he typically wore to council meetings. After receiving a commendation for his time as chief from October 2015 to June 2019, Howie passed the torch to Arbogast.
Mayor Harold Armstrong administered Arbogast’s oath of office, and Howie pinned her badge to her chest before the two shared an embrace.
“I’m excited and proud, and I feel it’s an honor to be able to continue to work with the people of Glasgow,” she said after the meeting.
Arbogast began her career in law enforcement as a patrol officer with GPD, and she has also worked for the department as a detective, detective sergeant and a captain.
“I told (former GPD Chief Darrell Pickett) one time when I was hired, I said I started my career with this department and I want to finish my career with this department,” she said. “In other words, I will retire from Glasgow, whenever that may be. I hope not anytime soon, as long as my health holds up and as long as they still want me.”
Arbogast said that as chief, she wants to focus on strengthening teamwork within GPD and facilitating more collaboration between the department and other law enforcement agencies.
“You can’t do this job by yourself. It takes everybody,” she said. “I think we’ve got a really good foundation built and I think we need to grow and build upon that foundation.”
Before she was sworn in, a municipal order to appoint Arbogast as chief was approved by every council member present except Chasity Lowery. Council members Marna Kirkpatrick and Patrick Gaunce were absent.
According to Armstrong, the process of choosing a new chief involved the candidates being interviewed by the city’s public safety committee and a citizens’ committee established for the sole purpose of choosing a new chief. Those interviews were recorded, and about 36 GPD officers saw the footage as well, he said.
Members of both committees and the police officers voted on who to name chief, with Arbogast receiving the most votes, he said. Armstrong said he had faith in the committees and a pool of GPD officers to choose the best candidate for the job.
“I felt like that whoever the officers and the committee voted for and was the clear winner, I thought that it would be the best choice,” he said.
Lowery didn’t speak about her vote during the meeting but later presented a written statement to the Daily News explaining that she was opposed to the process by which Arbogast was elected, not to Arbogast serving as chief.
“I met with Chief Arbogast earlier and I explained that my vote was not directed (at) her personally but reflected my strong belief that the position of police chief should not be determined by an election that consisted of a majority of police department employees,” the statement read.
The statement also said Lowery wishes Arbogast “nothing but the best” and will continue to support the department.
In another matter, the council approved on second reading a motion to establish an interlocal agreement intended to spur business development in the county.
The agreement calls for the establishment of a seven-member board of directors for the Barren County Economic Development Authority, also known as the IDEA Board.
Three of the members, according to the agreement, are to be appointed by the mayor of Glasgow, three by the county’s judge-executive and one by the mayor of Cave City, though these nominees would have to be approved by their respective legislative bodies.
WASHINGTON – Amy McGrath, a Marine combat aviator who narrowly lost a House race to an incumbent Republican in Kentucky, has set her sights on an even more formidable target: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McGrath, whose campaign announcement video in her House race showcased the viral power of social media to raise money and national profile, said Tuesday she will be trying to defeat one of the most entrenched officials in Washington in McConnell. But she sees him as vulnerable because of his lengthy tenure in Washington, his stance on health care and his taut allegiance to the policies of President Donald Trump.
Her decision to enter the race represents a rare victory for Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who has had difficulty persuading top- tier candidates in other states to take on incumbent Republicans with control of the Senate at stake.
The contest also will test the power of incumbency against a call for generational change along with a measure of whether Trump’s popularity is transferable.
McGrath, 44, will almost certainly be able to raise enough money to mount a serious challenge to McConnell, 77, but she is still a decided underdog in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since Wendell Ford in 1992.
“I’ve been always somebody who stepped up to the plate when asked, when I felt like my country needed me, and this is one of those times,” McGrath said in an interview.
She is attempting to repeat her viral moment with a new video , one that leans hard on idealism while also attacking McConnell as the embodiment of a dysfunctional Washington.
“I felt like somebody needs to stand up to him,” McGrath said.
McGrath also reprises one element of her first video, pointedly noting that when, as a 13-year-old girl, she wrote to McConnell to make the case that women should be able to fly in combat, the senator never wrote back.
But her attacks on McConnell and his record carry risks because Trump remains highly popular in Kentucky, and McConnell has pushed through much of the president’s agenda and, perhaps more importantly, his nominees to federal courts, including Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
She said that Kentucky voters are not fans of either political party and they supported Trump in part because of his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, lower drug prices and deliver a more effective alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
“Those things haven’t happened because of guys like Senator McConnell,” she said.
McConnell struck back quickly in a Twitter message that presaged what a race between him and McGrath would look like. The tweet strung together a series of quotes from McGrath that depicts her as an out of touch liberal who also opposes Trump, notably his call for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
McGrath lost to Rep. Andy Barr by 3 percentage points in the 2018 midterm election, a race that she had been so confident of winning that she was working on her victory speech as the first returns came in.
She ran up comfortable margins in the heavily Democratic Lexington area, but Barr was able to win overwhelmingly in rural areas. Barr also benefited from a campaign appearance by Trump, rare for a House member. Former Vice President Joe Biden went to Kentucky to campaign for McGrath in what proved to be a failed effort to win back onetime Democrats in rural areas.
Trump also is expected to actively support McConnell and to try to muddy McGrath at least as much as Barr did.
In that race, McGrath, a Naval Academy graduate, foreswore negative attack ads against Barr while he and several outside groups supporting him spent millions of dollars labeling her as “too liberal” for Kentucky. McGrath, who must first win the Democratic nomination, would not show similar restraint against McConnell.
Democrats have prepared briefing books of more than 1,000 pages on McConnell, whose long record and ties to Washington interest groups provide ripe openings for attack. But he also can make the case that he has been able to use his power in Washington for the benefit of the state.
McConnell has in Kentucky a fiercely loyal team of political operatives who are known for hard-hitting campaigns that leave his opponents badly bruised.
Schumer worked hard to persuade McGrath to run against McConnell. Several other would-be recruits, including former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, declined his overtures, and others, like former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, passed on Senate races to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
A man suspected of robbing a downtown Bowling Green bank was arrested Monday afternoon.
Steven Earl Spruill, 40, of Bowling Green, was arrested by the Bowling Green Police Department on charges of first-degree robbery, tampering with physical evidence and giving an officer false identifying information.
City police responded around 10:55 a.m. to a robbery at BB&T Bank, 443 Park Row, where they learned a man had robbed an undisclosed amount of cash and then fled on foot.
A surveillance camera image released by police showed a black male with a beard wearing a dark knit cap, camouflage jacket and tan pants.
Shortly after officers and detectives responded to the area, police located the camouflage jacket and hat a few blocks away, and Spruill was recognized by a detective on Adams Street, according to a post on BGPD’s Facebook page.
Spruill lied about his identity when police made contact with him, and he later confessed to the robbery when interviewed at BGPD headquarters, according to police.
BGPD spokesman Officer Ronnie Ward said the robber entered the bank and indicated to an employee that he had a weapon and a detonator.
Ward said they have been unable to confirm whether the suspect actually carried a weapon or detonator.
The bank was closed while officers and detectives scoured the area for clues.
The robber left nothing behind within the bank, Ward said.
This is the second robbery in less than a day’s time to occur in the city.
Ward said police responded after 10 p.m. Sunday night to a reported robbery at Family Dollar store at Gordon Avenue near Veterans Memorial Lane.
Ward said police have been unable to obtain clear video footage of that incident.