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Judge disputes witness tampering claim in Marshall County HS shooting case

Posted at 10:35 AM, Feb 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-01 19:33:14-05

BENTON, Ky. (WTVF) — A Marshall County, Kentucky judge heard the criminal case in the deadly Marshall County High School shooting on Friday.

Gabriel Parker is accused of opening fire in the commons area of the school on January 23rd last year and killed Bailey Holt and Preston Cope. Fourteen other students were injured during the shooting or while trying to escape.

Family and friends of the victims were in the courtroom as Parker was escorted in wearing a navy blue button-up and khakis. Right across from him was his mother who was looking away.

Defense Attorney Tom Griffiths began the day on a hearing about potential witness tampering. He had the attorney for the Marshall County school district, Michael Owsley, on the stand for allegedly telling school witnesses to not talk to the defense.

Owsley was the attorney who represented the school district in the Heath High School shooting in Paducah in 1997.

The defense attorney blamed Owsley for interfering with how they are able to do their job, suggesting Owsley told at least two teachers that knew Parker growing up to not speak to his investigators.

A letter sent by Owsley to the defense team asked them to stop trying to contact school employees. Griffiths responded by claiming it was an attempt to shut down the defense's investigation.

Owsley testified that what the letter was just a request.

"I asked that you not to do that. I didn't direct you not to do that, the language is very clear," Owsley argued.

"That letter should never have been written or sent. I've never sent a letter like that in my life," Griffiths said.

However, those who took the stand from school teachers to the superintendent said Owsley never blatantly told them to not speak to defense investigators.

If so, that would be an ethical violation. Because of the testimonies, the judge ruled against the defense's claims and request for depositions. He noted that witness tampering would be a criminal charge which was not the case.

"There was simply no testimony whatsoever that anyone instructed anybody to not speak to the defense," Judge Jamie Jameson said.

"I was skeptical about some of the testimony I heard today but it's difficult when we have people coming in planning on what to say," Griffiths said.

A status hearing has been scheduled next month. Griffiths said it is guaranteed that a motion will be filed to request a venue change.

Aside from the criminal case, there have been two civil lawsuits filed.

One civil lawsuit had the family of 15-year-old Bailey Holt, her boyfriend Gage Smock, Mary Bella James and Dalton Keeling as plaintiffs. The lawsuit is against 18 defendants including Parker, his parents, Marshall County High School officials and unknown school employees and unidentified personal counselor.

The lawsuit claims the school “knew or should have known of Gabriel Parker’s dangerous propensities and failed to take any action to monitor, report, intervene, or prevent the actions.”

It also said that school employees failed to implement an appropriate emergency plan and did not comply with policies and procedures. The plaintiffs accuse the school of not inspecting premises for potentially dangerous conditions and lack of security.

Parker’s parents, Justin and Mary Garrison Minyard, are being blamed for not properly securing the loaded Ruger 9mm semi-automatic pistol.

In a second civil lawsuit filed separately by the family of Preston Cope, Gabriel Parker and his parents are also defendants.

The lawsuit says his parents should have known about Parker’s “reported obsession with guns and violence, and threats made on social media at least six months prior to killing Preston Ryan Cope.”

The civil lawsuits did not mention an amount.