A jury was seated Tuesday to consider the sentence for a man who admitted killing his housemate.
Justin Denihan, 26, of Bowling Green, pleaded guilty to murder, tampering with physical evidence and abuse of a corpse in the death of Kelly Hackett.
Denihan admitted strangling Hackett, 47, in her Pleasant Place Way home, cutting her body with a knife and stuffing the body in a 40-gallon tote Aug. 19, 2017.
A jury of 14 people was seated Tuesday in Warren Circuit Court to decide the sentence for Denihan, who could spend 20 to 50 years in prison or be sentenced to life.
In his opening statement, Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron urged jurors to pay attention to the details of Denihan’s actions.
“This case won’t be as much about what he did, but instead how he did it,” Cohron said.
A number of law enforcement witnesses are anticipated to testify Wednesday, and Hackett’s father is also expected to give testimony about how Hackett’s death has affected him.
Defense attorney Diana Werkman of the state Department of Public Advocacy urged jurors to consider details of the case with an open mind.
“We are here to humbly ask you to find some mercy for Justin Denihan,” Werkman said.
Denihan has been in the Warren County Regional Jail since his arrest on the day of the homicide.
Werkman said during her opening statement that jurors would hear about Denihan’s drug addiction before the slaying, how his memory of events during the time of the slaying contains a lot of gaps and his spiritual awakening while he has been in custody.
Denihan and his father, Daniel Denihan, plan to testify Wednesday.
Jurors heard testimony Tuesday from Donna Stewart of the Office of the Kentucky Medical Examiner, who performed the autopsy on Hackett.
Stewart said the autopsy showed Hackett suffered injuries as a result of both manual and ligature strangulation and sharp force trauma.
Though her body was found with electrical cord tied around her feet, Stewart said she could not conclude that the cord had been used to strangle Hackett.
Stewart also documented a deep, c-shaped cut extending from around Hackett’s left shoulder near her neck to her chest.
Questioned by Cohron, Stewart said that either the sharp force injury or the strangulation injuries on their own would have been enough to cause Hackett’s death.
Stewart also said a toxicology report showed the presence of methamphetamine and gabapentin in Hackett’s system.
The jury will return Wednesday. The hearing is expected to conclude that day.
– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.