A Bowling Green man who claims he did not voluntarily plead guilty in the death of his uncle was represented by a new attorney during a court hearing Monday.
Gregory Lee Shields Sr., 59, filed a handwritten motion in May to withdraw his guilty plea to a count of first-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of Samuel Murrell.
Police accuse Shields of beating and stabbing Murrell, 87, on Feb. 1, 2017, at their house on South Lee Drive.
Shields said in his motion that he was “pushed into” accepting an offer to plead guilty and serve a 25-year sentence on the manslaughter charge.
Under the agreement, Shields would begin serving the sentence for manslaughter after completing an eight-year sentence on an unrelated assault conviction.
Attorney Greg Berry, directing attorney for the Glasgow office for the Department of Public Advocacy, appeared Monday in Warren Circuit Court on behalf of Shields, who is incarcerated and was not brought to court.
Shields had previously been represented by public defenders from the Bowling Green office.
Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said in court that he and Berry have discussed the case and will return Aug. 28 for an evidentiary hearing on Shields’ motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
Warren Circuit Judge John Grise set an Aug. 21 deadline for Berry to supplement Shields’ motion with any additional filings.
Shields did not elaborate in his motion on his contention that he was forced into pleading guilty. He also requested a trial.
At the time of Shields’ guilty plea, Cohron said a state medical examiner’s report determined that Murrell died from a combination of injuries from blunt force trauma, manual strangulation and sharp force trauma.
Murrell’s wife, Maude Murrell, testified in a 2017 preliminary hearing that she witnessed Shields attack her husband, hitting him several times as he was in bed and cutting him with a knife.
Maude Murrell, who died last year, testified that she attempted to call 911, but Shields held a knife to Samuel Murrell’s throat and threatened to kill him.
She was the only eyewitness to the events.
Shields said at the time of his guilty plea that he had no memory of the night of the incident, and his attorney said Shields was intoxicated at the time from drinking and using cocaine.
Video of Maude Murrell’s testimony has been ruled admissible at a jury trial.
Kentucky’s underground kingdom, Mammoth Cave National Park, celebrated its 78th birthday Monday.
The world’s longest known cave system became the 27th national park in America on July 1, 1941, and park staff decided to throw a party for its anniversary.
“Back in 1941 we only had 44 miles of cave discovered, now we have 412 known miles, so we’re here to celebrate that with some free community events,” Park Ranger Emily Sweet said.
Tables outside the park’s Visitor Center were decorated with colorful balloons, folded tissue paper and party favors.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., attendees painted with watercolors, played cave-themed games like “Pin the Bat on the Cave” and tested their lung strength with a candle-blowing competition.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Sweet said. “And shows people that this park is open to all types of recreation. We have cave tours, (but) we also have a lot of surface activities, fun events on the surface (and) a lot of hiking trails. We’re honestly just excited to get community members more involved.”
Partygoers also had the opportunity to write down what they think the park will be like on its 100th birthday, and those predictions were placed in a time capsule.
“In (2041), they’ll come back and they’re gonna open it back up,” attendee Carrie Thomas said. “It was neat to hear what the boys had to say (about) what might be changed.”
Thomas saw the event on Facebook and traveled from Munfordville to attend with her two sons, Levi, 4, and Chase, 6.
The boys anticipate more bugs and bats, while Carrie Thomas believes more of the cave will be discovered – and she’s not alone.
“I think (park rangers) said there’s more people down there looking for it,” 11-year-old Sophia Giggy said.
And she’s right. Explorers are continually finding new parts of the five-level cave system that was named for its “mammoth” size and, according to legend, was discovered accidentally by a hunter in the 1790s.
Giggy’s uncle Steve Ferro envisions a more technologically-advanced future for the park.
“A lot more guests arriving in self-driving vehicles, I think that you’ll be able to pay for your fees with cryptocurrencies, and there will be much better cell coverage,” Ferro laughed.
Ferro and Giggy decided to stop by the park on their way from Tennessee to Kansas, and joined several people in a happy birthday ballad before snagging the last piece of cake.
Chinese language and cultural education programs offered through the Confucius Institute will continue next year through an agreement with Simpson County Schools.
The deal was approved during the final days of Simpson County Schools Superintendent Jim Flynn’s tenure before he retired. Flynn confirmed to the Daily News that the district’s school board approved agreements related to the partnership during its board meeting Thursday.
Under the deal, Flynn said 24 new Chinese teachers and 19 returning teachers will teach in area schools. The agreement will also allow Simpson County Schools to retain the four Chinese teachers it currently employs, Flynn said.
Flynn’s replacement, current Simpson County Schools Superintendent Tim Schlosser, did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Monday morning.
Simpson County Schools has employed Chinese teachers through the Confucius Institute for nine years with good results, Flynn said. The CI’s language and cultural programming enabled the district to offer its second language, following Spanish, Flynn said.
However, that was thrown into doubt after Western Kentucky University announced this spring it would end its partnership with the Confucius Institute due to a conflict in federal funding for its separate Chinese Language Flagship Program.
With foreign language teachers hard to come by in more rural school districts, Flynn said districts have to get creative to expand their offerings.
“One of the things that we are tapping into more and more is finding these non-traditional pathways for finding teachers,” he said, describing the pipeline for new teachers in general as becoming “thinner and thinner.”
“I think we’re going to have to be more and more creative like that,” Flynn said.
On Thursday, Flynn said the district’s school board approved four agreements related to the partnership with the Confucius Institute. The first two were agreements with Confucius Institute Headquarters, also called Hanban, and North China Electric Power University, “because Hanban requires a higher ed partner,” in these arrangements, Flynn said.
The board also approved an agreement to transfer assets from WKU, including several Confucius Institute vehicles, curricular materials, office furniture and equipment and Chinese cultural artifacts.
The deal also gave the school district a fund balance of $192,714.25 that Flynn said will be used to fund programming costs, such as expenses for bringing the teachers from China.
“Simpson County Schools will be the fiscal agent and provide kind of the financial oversight,” for the CI funds, Flynn said.
The board approved a fourth and final agreement with a “new entity” called BG Education Management Solutions Inc. Flynn described that organization as a nonprofit formed to administer Confucius Institute programs. That organization is headed up by Terrill Martin, who previously oversaw WKU’s Confucius Institute before the university discontinued its partnership.
After WKU announced it would end its partnership with its CI, Martin said he consulted with area school district superintendents and learned that “a lot of them were really disappointed,” Martin told the Daily News.
From there, he began reaching out to several organizations to gauge interest in continuing the CI’s school programming.
Martin said 47 schools will continue receiving programming under the new partnership, but added that “it creates some opportunities for us to branch out” across the state or even outside it.
In April, WKU President Timothy Caboni announced the decision to discontinue the university’s partnership with the Confucius Institute, explaining a conflict with the university’s Chinese Flagship Program in a campuswide email. The Chinese Language Flagship program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, allows students to take Chinese language courses in addition to their major and minor coursework and pursue educational opportunities in China as well.
“Defense spending legislation passed in 2018 prohibits institutions from hosting Confucius Institutes if they receive U.S. Department of Defense funding for Chinese language programs,” Caboni wrote in the email at the time.
“Although many efforts have been made, WKU has been denied a waiver from the (Department of Defense) that would allow WKU to operate both the CI and the Chinese Flagship Program,” Caboni wrote.
In May, WKU spokesman Bob Skipper said the university was exploring its options to continue offering the program.
“We’re still looking for some way to keep this program alive,” WKU spokesman Bob Skipper said. “That’s an important outreach for us, but it’s not something that we can afford to take on all on our own.”
On Monday, Skipper said he had no immediate comment about the matter but that he was reaching out to the university’s provost and president for comment.
Asked whether the partnership could pose similar federal funding problems for Simpson County Schools, Flynn said the district learned that would not be an issue because the school district receives no Defense Department funding.
“We looked into that specifically,” he said, adding he also discussed the matter with Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis.
Flynn stressed the educational opportunities students in his district have had through the program over the last nine years, including one student who began learning about Chinese language and culture in elementary school and went on to study international business in college, with a focus on China.
For both local students and teachers from China, Flynn said, the program “opens up a window to other parts of the world that you wouldn’t understand otherwise.”
Successive days of drizzle, downpours and thunderstorms contributed to Bowling Green’s ninth-wettest June on record.
Bowling Green nearly doubled its average monthly rainfall with 8.26 inches. That’s about as wet as it got in Kentucky last month. Only Bowman Field in Louisville had a higher rainfall total with 8.28 inches, according to C.J. Padgett of the National Weather Service in Louisville.
The city experienced two days of rainfall greater than 1 inch and six days with at least a half-inch. The highest rainfall in a 24-hour period was 1.46 inches June 6.
Two years ago, residents experienced the 10th-wettest June on record. Last year, the city received only 3.33 inches in June – although 2018 overall still saw about 5 inches of rain above normal.
Statewide, above-normal saturated grounds have contributed to a greater risk for flooding during recent heavy rain events, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, though a factor in flooding risk is how heavily and quickly rain falls.
Through June 30, the city has seen 33.15 inches of rainfall this year. The six-month average for the same time frame is 26.13 inches, and the average annual rainfall in Bowling Green is 48 inches.
“We are about seven inches above normal for this time of year,” Padgett said.
Earlier this year, Bowling Green had its second wettest February with 11.14 inches – more than seven inches higher than the average of 3.96 inches. Kentucky Mesonet even recorded 3.01 inches on one day – Feb. 23 – at the Western Kentucky University Farm.
NOAA’s three-month outlook for July, August and September lists an equal chance for above- or below-average temperatures and precipitation in Kentucky.
Through the holiday weekend, the NWS predicts afternoon rain and thunderstorms.