MURRAY — A judge found probable cause Wednesday in the case of a Murray man accused of causing another man’s death late last month.
Judge Randall A. Hutchens Prior made his ruling following a preliminary hearing Wednesday morning in Calloway District Court in the case of Charles Harding, 51. Harding was facing a charge of first-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of Rickie Puckett, 66, on the morning of Nov. 24 in a Murray apartment complex. Just before the hearing started, Calloway Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James Burkeen informed Hutchens that the charge was being amended to second-degree assault, and testimony Wednesday showed why.
While serving as a witness in the hearing, Murray Police Department Detective Angel Clere said the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office in Madisonville had determined that strangulation was the cause of Puckett’s death. On Wednesday, the only issue covered was how Harding allegedly struck Puckett’s head with a metal pipe.
“I talked with (Calloway County Coroner Ricky Garland) and he told me that (the medical examiner’s office) told him that this was not what caused his death,” Clere said, going back to Nov. 24, the day Harding and Kim Puckett, 57, of Murray, were taken into custody and interviewed at MPD headquarters. “They admitted that Charles had hit Rickie with some kind of pipe that was a white or silverish-colored pipe, and during a search of the unit, a pipe was located. Coroner Ricky Garland was also on the scene and he said there was a red mark on (Ricky’s) front forehead and what looked like an open wound near the top center of the head.”
After the hearing, Burkeen said he could not discuss details of the strangulation side of the case, but he did say that a Calloway County grand jury would be taking a look at it when it meets later this month. Garland also said the preliminary results of Puckett’s autopsy have not been received as of yet, but are expected soon.
In addition, Hutchens honored the request of Harding’s attorney, Cheri Riedel, to have his bond reduced. Previously set at $50,000, that bond was reduced to $10,000 cash on Wednesday. Harding remains incarcerated at the Calloway County Jail.
A preliminary hearing is used to determine if enough probable cause exists in a case to move it to the next level. Hutchens did determine this to be the case after Clere’s testimony. She was the only witness to take the stand in that proceeding.
Clere said that after officers arrived at the apartment complex at the intersection South Fifth and Elm streets on the morning of the 24th, they made entry to a unit in which they found Puckett deceased on a couch. At that time, Clere also said those officers observed a white male, believed to be Harding, and black female, later identified as Kim Puckett, 57, of Murray, running from the residence.
Clere testified that both Harding and Puckett were later apprehended, taken to Murray police headquarters and interviewed. She did not say where Harding was located.
Kim is facing a charge of second-degree burglary and that was also covered in a separate preliminary hearing Wednesday. That charge appears to stem from activity that allegedly developed after she and Harding allegedly fled the apartment. MPD officer Trista Colson testified that as officers were canvassing the complex, a tenant came home to find that she could not enter her unit because it was locked from the inside, which was found to be unusual.
Colson said the tenant notified the landlord, who then told officers about this development. The apartment was then entered and a female, who Colson identified as Kim, was located.
“I found Miss Puckett in a back bedroom of that residence,” Colson said. “As we’re leaving the apartment, the resident advised that (Kim) had on all of her belongings and clothes. She said it was her sweatshirt and pants down to the shoes.”
Kim’s bond remained the same, $5,000 cash. Both her case and that of Harding will next go to a Calloway County grand jury, which will have the option of either issuing an indictment or deciding that the case does not have enough evidence to continue. An indictment means the case will advance to circuit court.
Judge Hutchens set Jan. 7 dates in Calloway Circuit Court for both defendants on Wednesday. Individuals facing charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.