BENTON — More than a year after a deadly shooting at local high school, the wheels of justice appear to be finally turning a little faster.
With Marshall Circuit Judge James T. Jameson on Friday setting a June 2020 trial date for the teenager accused in that shooting, Gabriel Parker, this case has now entered a phase where both sides can begin, in earnest, to prepare their respective cases. With that out of the way, though, it does not mean that all obstacles have been cleared.
There appears to be at least one additional issue to determine. That is the site of the trial, as this case has received heavy media attention while also being the talk of numerous communities since the shots rang out on the morning of Jan. 23, 2018, at Marshall County High School in Draffenville. Two students died and 14 others were wounded.
“I think it will be difficult … no … I think it will be impossible to try this case in this county, where this happened,” said Parker’s lead attorney, Tom Griffiths, Friday afternoon following a status hearing in Marshall Circuit Court. “I also don’t think it would be fair to try and make the people of this county set aside what they went through, because this is a place where everybody just about knows everybody. No one was not touched by this.”
Griffiths said he would be filing a motion for change of venue within the next two to three weeks. That motion will then be heard by Jameson in a hearing set for May 17 in Benton.
Marshall Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust said he is holding onto the idea that this trial can still happen, if not in Marshall County, then somewhere within close proximity of the county. This is why he not filing a motion of any kind when it comes to venue. A former circuit judge himself, though, he said he has experience with this issue.
“From my experience, when you’re looking at change of venue in a case, you look at how areas are covered by their local media and what you really want to find is a place where maybe a case is not being covered on a daily basis,” Foust sad. “It needs to be a community where it doesn’t have as much publicity, along with being a place where maybe the people themselves aren’t talking about it too much, so maybe we can still do this close by. My hope, though, is we can do this in Marshall County.”
Griffiths said he would like to keep the case in western Kentucky.
“But we may have to try and go to central Kentucky because you also have to consider that we have to have a place, where we can sit a jury, with a large enough court system to accommodate this,” he said. “However, at the same time, you don’t want to make this unfair for family members and others when it comes to travel a long, long way.
“That’s the reason (himself and Foust) wanted to get this trial date today, because now we can start working on finding a place that can handle this case.”
Change of venue never had a chance to be considered in another high-profile school shooting case for which far-western Kentucky is now known. In December 1997, Heath High School freshman Michael Carneal shot eight students who had gathered in a morning prayer circle, killing three of them. However, he entered a guilty plea and is now serving a prison sentence of life in prison without parole for 25 years at the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange.
Perhaps the highest-profile case to require a change of venue within the last several years in western Kentucky came in 2010 when Kevin Wayne Dunlap was sentenced to death for the killings of three children in the southern Trigg County community of Roaring Spring in October 2008. That case was moved to Livingston Circuit Court in Smithland.
Parker is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of students Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, both 15, and 14 counts of assault in the first degree, which accounts for the number of students injured by gunshots.
Individuals facing charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.