It’s been nearly two years since Shadrach Peeler of Elizabethtown was arrested and charged with killing his girlfriend and a convenience store co-owner less than a mile from each other.
While his double murder trial has been postponed twice — once for a mental evaluation and once for COVID-19 health concerns of one of his attorneys — his trial last week and others for the next few months have been put on hold by a Kentucky Supreme Court administrative order that all jury trials would be postponed until at least April 1 because of the ongoing pandemic.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Shane Young says the delays put stress on an already packed system.
“The inability to conduct trials, as mandated by the Supreme Court, results in delayed justice for defendant’s and victims,” he said. “It also adds significant costs to our local jail as the county is responsible for the costs of those awaiting trial. Also, the threat of trial tends to settle cases. However, that being said we have to make sure that juror’s are safe and I believe the Supreme Court is trying to do just that.”
The lone murder trial after March 1, 2020, was in October when Kendal Lincoln was convicted of killing a Vine Grove man.
At that trial, attendance was limited to only a few family members wearing masks spaced out in the courtroom, as were attorneys.
Jurors who typically sit next to each other in a jury box were spread out for social distancing.
Peeler’s trial has been moved from Jan. 11 to May 3.
Young calls the trial situation “challenging to say the least.” There are numerous other trials being delayed as well for sex offenses, assault and drugs.
“I don’t know of anyone currently practicing law that has experienced any disruption of this magnitude in the criminal justice system,” he said. “In order to operate effectively, you have to move cases through the system. Crimes are still being committed and the police are still arresting individuals, so it is imperative that we process defendant’s through the system in a timely manner.”
Peeler, 37, is charged with shooting to death Cherie Turner, 34, on West Warfield Street and convenience store co-owner Subash “Su” Ghale, 40, on North Miles Street on Feb. 22, 2019. He also is charged in shooting two other people the same night in and near the store.
The next scheduled murder trial is set for February and will need to be rescheduled, Young said.
Jahi Hall was charged in the Dec. 20, 2018, death of a 4-month-old boy in his care.
Hall, 26, was arrested the same day and charged in the death of Brody Lemuel Taylor of Elizabethtown.
The infant boy was found unresponsive that morning and was pronounced dead at 9:55 a.m. at then Hardin Memorial Hospital in Elizabethtown.
According to an arrest warrant for Hall, the child suffered skull fractures and multiple rib fractures and abrasions to his face, neck and chest.
Hall and Peeler are among six murder trials in Hardin County. Aside from the Hall case, they now are scheduled between May 3 and Aug. 9.
Another murder trial for Elijah Barnett, 24, of Elizabethtown, and Donyale Jones, 28, of Elizabethtown, is set for March and also will need to be pushed back.
Barnett and Jones are two of four people who were charged in a May 22, 2019, robbery and murder of a Vine Grove man behind a Radcliff apartment complex.
All were charged with complicity to commit murder and complicity to commit first-degree robbery in the shooting death of Lashard Harrison, 25.
Tyler Lawrence, 21, of Elizabethtown, and Temorris Davis Jr., 23, of Elizabethtown, have accepted plea deals in the case, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Carr said.
Lawrence received 20 years and Morris five years. His charges were downgraded to criminal facilitation to murder.
While the delays present challenges, Young said delaying for safety precautions is needed.
“Jurors come from all walks of life and different backgrounds including senior citizens and those with health conditions and nobody wants to endanger a person who is simply fulfilling their civic duty,” he said. “Hopefully, come April we have enough of our population vaccinated that we can get back in the courtroom and start getting the defendant’s and victims the justice they deserve.”