Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Charge reduced to manslaughter in convicting teen of student's death

The Associated Press

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - An 18-year-old who had been charged with murder in the death of a boarding school student who was home on Christmas break last year was instead convicted of first-degree manslaughter, sparing him the possibility of a death sentence.

Daniel Gordin was also convicted of first-degree robbery Monday night. A Jessamine County jury was to consider a sentence recommendation Tuesday.

Gordin looked to the courtroom ceiling in relief after the verdicts were announced. Gordin, of southern Fayette County, was 16 at the time of the Jan. 5, 2002, shooting.

Adam Zeroogian, one of Gordin's two defense attorneys, said the outcome was appropriate.

"We never said he shouldn't be punished but only that the death penalty is extreme," Zeroogian said.

The family of Ryan Harris was disappointed in the verdict.

"I guess people can go out and kill people and get away with it," said Larry Harris, the victim's father. "How anyone could give manslaughter is beyond me."

The jury took about 4 1/2 hours to deliberate before returning the verdicts.

Gordin could receive 10 to 20 years in prison on the manslaughter verdict and 10 to 20 years on the robbery verdict.

Until Monday, Gordin also faced a charge of first-degree wanton endangerment for firing a gun at Harris' car. But Special Judge James G. Weddle dismissed that charge. Zeroogian had argued last week that the wanton endangerment and murder charges were inseparable, and to face both meant Gordin would be illegally tried twice for the same offense.

In testimony last week, Gordin admitted robbing Harris of $6 at a Jessamine County construction site while Harris was sitting in his car. Harris, who was back home in Lexington from Massachusetts, then followed the car in which Gordin was riding with two other teens, Summer Turner and driver Joey Reynolds. Gordin also admitted firing a pistol from the window of the car at Harris' car during a chase in northern Jessamine County.

Gordin also testified last week that he ordered Reynolds to stop the car, jumped out, and ran back toward Harris' car, fired twice and then saw Harris' car drive away. Only after Gordin saw a newspaper article did he know Harris had died.

In his closing argument, defense co-counsel Rodney McDaniel told the jurors that "there's a total absence in this case of any intention to cause the death of Ryan Harris."

David Smith, one of two assistant attorneys general assisting Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Lockridge in the prosecution, said Gordin is guilty of murder "as sure as I'm standing here in this courtroom today."

"He knew he hit the car. He knew he hit Ryan Harris. He knew good and well," Smith said.

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