COVID-19 concerns could delay Gabe Parker murder trial

Posted at 4:23 PM, Apr 14, 2020

BENTON, Ky. (WTVF) — Families and community members seeking justice for the murders of two 15-year-old Kentucky students might have to wait even longer because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The attorneys in the case against Gabriel Parker, the teenager accused of shooting and killing Bailey Holt and Preston Cope at Marshall County High School in January 2018, asked the judge to delay his trial on June 1.

Commonwealth's attorney Dennis Foust told NewsChannel 5 that the defense agreed to request a postponement now that prepping their witnesses has been interrupted by strict social distancing efforts.

"We're not able to reach out and have that one-on-one contact that we need to be able to have with our witnesses prior to the trial," Foust said. "You can only do so much by telephone, email or even Skype interviews."

There's also questions on how attorneys will properly choose a jury in the courthouse when they have to screen hundreds of people. It's the same concern shared by Judge Jamie Jameson on a Skype meeting on Monday with the attorneys. James has the Supreme Court of Kentucky for an exception to begin the process of summoning a jury.

Jury summons need to happen no later than this week because the administrative office of the courts requires a 45 day notice, and respective jurors need a 30 day notice.

"With all the social distancing, are we going to even be able to bring a large number of prospective jurors into a courtroom to start seating a jury?" Foust questioned.

Foust is expected to have close to 70 witnesses for the trial, at least two or three of them are doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who took care of most of the 14 other people injured in the school shooting.

However, with courts closed due to COVID-19, Foust is unable to subpoena out-of-state witnesses without an order from Kentucky courts certifying they're a material witness and a petition or order of personal attendance from Davidson County that would allow the doctors to testify.

"The situation we're in in both Tennessee and Kentucky makes it difficult and most likely impossible at the present time because the doctors there are obviously needed to take care of COVID-19 patients," Foust said.

He addressed likely concerns and even understanding from the victims' families who have been waiting for so long to see a trial. As a lifelong Marshall County resident, Foust said he wants to see "the clouds hanging over heads" to go away as soon as possible.

Parker has been jailed in Christian County where the trial is scheduled to take place. He's charged with two counts of murder and 14 counts of first-degree assault. Since the alleged crimes occurred when he was a juvenile, the death penalty won't be considered. He could face life without the possibility of parole on the murder charges and up to 20 years for each first-degree assault charge.

Another court hearing on April 28 could determine if the judge will delay the trial.