Saturday, January 18, 2003

I shot the sheriff, man admits


Plea bargain spares him from death

The Associated Press

SOMERSET, Ky. - A man who fired a fatal shot at a rural Kentucky sheriff at a fish fry pleaded guilty to murder Friday in a deal that spared him a possible death sentence.

In exchange for a sentence recommendation of life in prison, Danny Shelley agreed to testify against two other men charged with plotting to kill Sam Catron, the longtime Pulaski County sheriff.

If a judge follows the sentencing recommendation when Mr. Shelley is sentenced March 3, Mr. Shelley would be eligible for parole after serving 25 years.

A trial date has not been set for Mr. Shelley's alleged co-conspirators. Jeff Morris, a former deputy sheriff who was challenging Mr. Catron in the May primary election; and Kenneth White, who was helping with Mr. Morris' campaign, remain jailed without bond, charged with complicity to murder a police officer.

Mr. Catron, 48, was shot minutes after delivering a re-election speech April 13 at a political rally and fish fry at a volunteer fire department in Shopville. He was struck in the head by a single bullet fired from a nearby hillside.

Mr. Shelley was caught minutes later after he sped away on a motorcycle.

"After we got through looking at all the evidence and conducting our own investigation, it was pretty clear the state had a good case against him and that entering a plea was in his best interest," said Mark Stanziano, Mr. Shelley's attorney. "He wanted to take responsibility for what he had done."

If his case went to trial, Mr. Shelley could have received a death sentence or a sentence of life with no possibility of parole.

The prosecutor, Commonwealth's Attorney Eddy Montgomery, said Mr. Catron's family was consulted about the plea agreement. He said Mr. Shelley gets a life sentence, and prosecutors get his help as they try to win convictions against the other two men.

Mr. White's attorney, David Hoskins of Corbin, said he had expected the plea from Mr. Shelley and has been planning his defense accordingly. He said his client is innocent.

Mr. Morris' attorney, Jane Butcher of Williamsburg, did not return a call seeking comment.

During his tenure as sheriff, Mr. Catron was known for a tough stance on drug crime.

His department became one of the few serving rural areas to use a helicopter to search for marijuana plants.




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