Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Deputy gets life for death of sheriff

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

SOMERSET, Ky. - Jeff Morris wanted so badly to be sheriff that he participated in a plot to kill the longtime officeholder.

Instead of the brown uniform of a Kentucky sheriff, Morris, 36, will be wearing prison garb. He was sentenced Monday to life in prison for his role in the murder of Sheriff Sam Catron, who was gunned down at a campaign rally last year.

"I am sorry that it went as far as it did," Morris said, turning to face Catron's family in the small third-floor courtroom in the Pulaski County Courthouse. "I hope and pray to God that you can forgive me sometime in your heart."

Morris, a former deputy, won't be eligible for parole for at least 25 years under a plea bargain that spared him the possibility of the death penalty. Under the plea agreement, Morris admitted to complicity to murder Catron to improve his chances of winning election.

Catron was shot minutes after delivering an re-election speech April 13, 2002. He was struck in the head by a single bullet fired from a nearby hillside.

As part of Morris' plea, he agreed to testify against another defendant in the case, Kenneth White.

Morris told Judge Paul Braden last month that White came up with the plan to kill the sheriff. He said he went along with it because he feared White might harm his family.

Morris also admitted giving Danny Shelley, the triggerman, his motorcycle as a getaway vehicle. Shelley pleaded guilty in March to murder in a deal that also spared him the death penalty. He, too, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for 25 years.

White, who pleaded not guilty to the charge against him, is scheduled for trial on Nov. 3. He is undergoing a mental evaluation to determine his competency.

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