BENTON — A pair of civil lawsuits connected to a deadly school shooting last year in Marshall County were heard for the first time in a courtroom Tuesday.
The suits were filed by families of both of the students who died in the Jan. 23, 2018, incident at Marshall County High School in Draffenville, as well as several students who received injuries. One family is suing the alleged shooter, Gabriel Parker, now 16, his mother and stepfather, Mary Garrison Minyard and Justin Minyard, as well as the Marshall County school system, while the other family is suing Parker, who was a student at the school, and the adults, but not the school system.
The main item of business Tuesday was for Marshall Circuit Judge James T. Jameson to hear motions in the case. He did not set a new date.
One matter was for Jameson to inform attorneys of the plaintiffs in both cases that any fee for Parker’s defense would be levied to the plaintiffs. That is because he will require separate counsel from his criminal attorney, Tom Griffiths of the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy’s Capital Trials Division.
“I just want to make sure everyone is aware of that,” Jameson told the assembled audience.
Next was a motion filed by attorney Sheila P. Hiestand, who is representing the families of Bailey Holt, one of the students who died in the shooting, along with students Dalton Smock, Mary Bella James and Dalton Keeling for a special bailiff be appointed in the case, specifically for the purpose of locating the Minyards so they can be served First Amended complaints and alias summonses. The motion states that the Minyards are no longer residing in Marshall County.
The motion names Steve O’Daniel of O’Daniel Investigative Services of Nicholasville as the investigator of choice for the plaintiffs. Heistand is a member of the McCoy, Hiestand & Smith law office in Louisville.
Another matter brought before Jameson was an order to relieve warning that was filed by Paducah attorney Ryan Yates. Yates has been appointed for “unknown defendants in their official and individual capacities as employees of the Marshall County School System.” This was filed because Yates states that he “has represented multiple persons that fall under the umbrella as employees of the Marshall County School System and that said representation creates a conflict preventing him from serving as warning order attorney.”
That order was not granted by Jameson earlier, though, and was reinforced before Tuesday’s proceeding when Yates brought the matter before an ethics board for review. At that time, the ethics group ruled that there was no conflict of interest..
The other suit is filed by family members of Preston Cope – the other student to die in the shooting – and does not involve the school district.
Meanwhile, Griffiths was in the courtroom Tuesday keeping a close eye on the civil matters, which he said are causing problems for the criminal case.
“Myself and (the Marshall Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office) are working hard to prepare our cases and the last thing we need coming in is someone messing with witnesses, messing with evidence and interviewing my client when they do not need to,” Griffiths said in an impromptu news conference he hosted outside of the courtroom entrance. “I’m not saying that (attorneys in the civil case) would’ve done any of that. That’s why I filed a notice that we’re invoking all privileges and they shouldn’t do anything in the civil case that’s going to upset the criminal case.
“Part of why I did that is, as soon as they did the civil suit, my client didn’t have an attorney for that. Thankfully, this morning, the judge appointed an attorney in the civil case and hopefully that attorney, once hired and in place, will be able to take care of any issues that come up.
“I was really worried about the time period from the moment of the civil suit being filed (the Holt family suit was filed on Jan. 23, while the Cope family filed suit a day later) until the moment he had an attorney in place.”
Griffiths said he does not keep so close an eye on most civil cases as he is with the Parker case.
“I was already concerned with some of the activities of civil counsel, which is why we had a hearing about witness tampering on February 1. So I thought it was prudent in this case to file that notice.”
Parker’s next appearance in the criminal side of this case is set for March 8, and Griffiths said Tuesday that he is hopeful all discovery in the case will have been examined by that time. He also said it is possible that a trial date may be requested, but that is dependent on how much more investigation both sides need to perform.
Individuals facing charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.