RUSSELLVILLE – Logan County Commonwealth’s Attorney Neil Kerr filed notice Tuesday of his intent to seek life without parole for Deon Young, one of two people facing trial next month in the death of Lexus Bell.
At a pretrial conference Thursday, Logan Circuit Judge Tyler Gill denied a motion from Young’s attorney, Alan Simpson, to prohibit Kerr from seeking enhanced penalties for Young.
Bell, 21, was shot to death Aug. 21, 2016, at her Russellville apartment.
Young, 27, is charged with murder, first-degree robbery and 10 counts of first-degree wanton endangerment.
A co-defendant, Demetrius Roberson, 25, is charged with murder, attempted murder, first-degree robbery and nine counts of first-degree wanton endangerment.
Kerr announced in March that he wouldn’t seek the death penalty against Roberson but would continue to seek life without parole.
Kerr’s predecessor in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, Justin Crocker, had filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Roberson, who is accused of firing the fatal shots in the 2016 incident.
Young and Roberson are scheduled to face a jury trial July 8.
Three other co-defendants, Reba Kirk, Tayveon Bibb and Jordan Lunsford, have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the slaying.
Simpson argued in a motion filed Wednesday that Kerr’s notice of intent to seek life without parole filed a month ahead of trial was untimely and unreasonable.
The potential for enhanced penalties would require Simpson to enlist a mitigation expert who would investigate and potentially testify about Young’s life and background if he were convicted at trial, and the attorney said it was unclear whether that expert would be available on short notice or whether Young could afford to pay for the expert.
Simpson said in his motion and told Gill on Thursday he would announce at the opening of the trial that he wasn’t ready to go forward.
“It’s fundamentally unfair to give notice a month before trial when there hasn’t been a whisper about it before,” Simpson said.
Gill denied Simpson’s motion, saying in court that the attorney’s obligation to put on mitigation evidence in the event Young is convicted has remained the same while the case has been pending.
Gill said he could not find a law requiring Kerr to provide notice of intent to seek life without parole, while prosecutors must file notice of intent to seek the death penalty.
If Simpson were to announce he was not ready to proceed with trial on the opening day, Gill said he would hold the attorney in contempt.
“I have an obligation to uphold the public’s trust in the system,” Gill said, addressing Simpson. “I would enforce your duty to defend this man at trial ... and you can take that to the bank.”
Also on Thursday, Gill heard arguments on a motion from Roberson’s attorney, Michael Bufkin, to exclude all firearms identification evidence in the case.
Bufkin argued that the methods used by ballistics experts to determine whether bullets and shell casings collected at crime scenes were likely to have been fired from weapons also collected as evidence lack scientific validity.
In Bufkin’s motion, he said ballistics experts reach their conclusions by firing the weapon collected into evidence, examining the marks left on the test round fired by the analyst and comparing the marks to the spent ammunition from the crime scene.
Bufkin argued there is no standard in place regarding the number, quality or kind of marks left on a spent test round for an expert to declare a match with a round from the crime scene.
Also, there are no databases used for statistical comparison, no computer analysis and no measurements taken during the examination.
“The conclusions reached by the examiner are purely subjective in nature and will vary based upon the examiner’s experience and work ethic,” Bufkin said in his motion.
Kerr argued that the evidence should be allowed, citing Kentucky Supreme Court rulings holding that such evidence is reliable and admissible.
Steven Hughes, a ballistics expert with the Kentucky State Police Jefferson Lab, testified Thursday that the 11 shell casings collected from the crime scene match a gun provided to him in the investigation by the Russellville Police Department, but that tests on bullets and bullet fragments collected from the crime scene and at autopsy were inconclusive.
Gill said he would take the motion under advisement and ordered the attorneys to file written briefs within 10 days.
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