Hardin jury recommends five years for Galenski

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Teen remains jailed on $500,000 bond

By Sarah Bennett

A Hardin County jury returned a recommendation Thursday afternoon of five years in prison for complicity to tampering with physical evidence in the case against Conner Galenski, a Louisville teen accused in the Nov. 2 shooting death of Mackenzie Smyser near Ky. 313.

After more than 10 hours of deliberation Wednesday, the jury could not reach a verdict on a charge of complicity to commit murder. Judge Kelly Mark Easton declared a mistrial on that question. The trial began last week and was handed to the jury around noon Wednesday.

Before excusing the 12-member jury Thursday, Easton told them reaching a deadlock does not mean the jury failed to do its job.

“I do not want you to carry from this any negative feeling,” he said.

A five-year sentence is the maximum penalty for a Class D felony. Galenski has been in jail since Nov. 6, which means he has served 15 percent of his sentence and is eligible for parole.

Defense attorney Rick Hardin said the teen still is under a $500,000 bond and will remain lodged at the Hardin County Detention Center.

Hardin said he assumes the commonwealth will ask for a retrial. A formal sentencing date for the tampering charge is been set for Dec. 6 at which time a retrial and future court dates will be discussed.

During the jury’s 10-hour deliberation Wednesday, they requested a dictionary and coroner’s report and watched the taped testimony from three witnesses — including that of alleged accomplices Ryan Wilt and Jason Gowers.

At the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing, Hardin said while the evidence the jury reviewed was “somewhat curious,” a jury has one of the worst jobs as the decision-making function in the trial.

“Prosecution thinks it has a very clear case, and I think I have a very clear case,” he said.

Witnesses allege Galenski, 19, planned and executed the killing with Gowers and Wilt — both of who pleaded guilty earlier this year and testified for the commonwealth as part of plea deals.

According to witness testimony, the three teens lured Smyser to a gravel road off Ky. 313 under the pretense of committing a robbery. Galenski allegedly shot him once in the face while Gowers shot Smyser three times. The day after the shooting, Galenski gave the gun to an acquaintance.

While Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Heather Paynter called witnesses to the stand for five days, Hardin did not call any witnesses to testify and waived an opening statement, choosing only to make a closing argument Wednesday before the jury went into deliberation.

In his argument, Hardin referred to testimony by Wilt and Gowers as “a story,” alleging the teens were lying and Gowers fired all four shots into Mackenzie Smyser.

“The story doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s impossible. It begins with a lie. It ends with a lie. Everything in the middle is inconsistent.”

Pointing twice at Galenski during her closing statement, Paynter said it’s never been a story.

“That’s the truth as you heard it from this witness box,” she said.

Family of the victim and the accused were present throughout the jury trial and sentencing hearing. As witnesses for the commonwealth, Smyser’s parents were under subpoena and were instructed not speak to media.

Galenski’s father, Mario Galenski, said Thursday he expected a guilty verdict for the tampering charge but was surprised the jury did not acquit his son of complicity to commit murder.

“I personally feel reasonable doubt was there,” Mario Galenski said.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.