Lambert Mug

Debra Hembree Lambert

Later this month, The Center for Rural Development will be the site as the Kentucky Supreme Court rules on a case with a man’s life hanging in the balance.

A day before that session, students from the Somerset Independent School District will convene at Somerset High’s W.B. Jones Auditorium with several of Kentucky’s Supreme Court justices to get a special insight into the hearing and the responsibilities of the Commonwealth’s highest court.

The gathering will take place on Sept. 18, at 1 p.m.

“The justices will be talking to the students about their decision-making process, and what goes into being a member of the Kentucky Supreme Court,” said Fonda Crawford, who heads up the Somerset district’s Gifted Program. “And we will be talking about the case they’ll be hearing the next day — at least, as much as the justices can discuss it.

“We will be meeting with the students beforehand, and make sure they’ll be able to ask relevant questions when they meet with the justices,” Crawford added. “It will certainly be a unique experience for the kids.”

On Sept. 19, the Kentucky Supreme Court will meet in Somerset to hear the case of Travis Bredhold, who is accused of gunning down and killing Mike Patel, a gas station cashier, in 2013. Bredhold was just 18 years old.

Fayette County Commonwealth Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn wants the death penalty on the table for Bredhold. His attorneys countered with this argument: the average male brain doesn’t reach full maturity until age 25. They say the death penalty should not be an option because of his age at the time of the crime.

In August 2017, Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone issued an order declaring the death penalty unconstitutional in the case Bredhold, who is now 23.

In a 2005 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the execution of people who were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes violated the federal constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishments.

Bredhold’s defense team asked Scorsone to extend that exclusion to people 21 and younger. Prosecutors argued that the death penalty is constitutional and argued that there is no national consensus with respect to offenders under 21.

Scorsone disagreed. “Contrary to the commonwealth’s assertion, it appears there is a very clear national consensus trending toward restricting the death penalty, especially in cases where defendants are 18 to 21 years of age,” Scorsone wrote.

The Bredhold case is having an impact on other murder trials in Fayette County.

The trial against Efrain Diaz, Justin Smith, and Roman Gonzalez, Jr. was supposed to happen this month. But because attorneys are waiting on the Bredhold ruling, the trial was moved to November.

They are accused of robbing and killing UK student Jonathan Krueger. One of the men was 18-years-old, and the other was 20-years-old at the time of the crime.

The other is the case against Marquess Smith, who, along with his juvenile co-defendants Marique Sturgis, Ricky Auxier and Christopher Allen, was indicted for the murder of Caleb Hallett in the course of a robbery on University Drive in 2016.

Kentucky’s Supreme Court may hear arguments from attorneys involved in the other two cases as well during the Sept. 19 hearing.

“Our students have shown a lot of interest in the case that will be heard at The Center,” Crawford said. “They have some opinions and I think they’re very interested in the process.”

Crawford said around 100 students will be on the hand for the assembly at W.B. Jones Auditorium, including representatives from the Gifted Program, leadership programs from SHS and Meece Middle and the new Carnegie Academy, which allows juniors and seniors enrolled in the program the opportunity to garner dual high school and college credits while studying under an on-site college professor.

“No other high school in the state has a program like the Carnegie Academy,” Crawford said. “We’re very excited about it.”

The Kentucky Supreme Court has had some local flavor for the past decade. In 2008, then-Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Somerset native Dan Venters to serve on the court. He won re-election to 3rd District seat and wound up serving for a decade before retiring last year.

In the election to fill Venters’ seat, Debra Hembree Lambert won a three-way race. Lambert is a Bell County native, but currently resides in Burnside with her husband, Joseph Sharpe.

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