One of the three men involved in the 2002 assassination of Pulaski County Sheriff Sam Catron has lost a bid to have his sentence overturned.
In an opinion issued last Friday, a Kentucky Court of Appeals panels affirmed the conviction and sentence for 54-year-old Jeffery Allen Morris.
Morris pleaded guilty to complicity to commit murder and was sentenced in September 2003 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. He is currently serving that sentence at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty.
Morris had been a former deputy who was running against Sheriff Catron. He was charged along with Kenneth White, with whom he'd been accused of plotting the crime, and 49-year-old Danny S. Shelley, who actually shot Catron.
Back on June 15 of last year, Morris filed a motion seeking relief from the remainder of his sentence "because the COVID-19 pandemic endangered his life" due to EKCC's overcrowding and poor ventilation making "it more likely he would contract" the virus. Then-Circuit Judge Jerry Cox denied the motion a week later, stating that he found "no extraordinary circumstances justifying relief" under state procedural rules.
Acting as his own attorney, Morris appealed the ruling. The appellate panel — consisting of Chief Judge Pro Tem Allison Jones, Judge Irv Maze and Judge Larry Thompson — affirmed Judge Cox's order last week.
"Simply put, the COVID-19 pandemic, an event that began just shy of two decades after Morris's judgment was entered, and has nothing whatsoever to do with his conviction, is not an extraordinary circumstance that entitles him to relief from his judgment of conviction," Judge Jones wrote for the panel.
The opinion also noted that, instead of filing a motion through his original criminal case, Morris should have filed a separate civil action against EKCC's warden to address any condition of confinement claims — although relief doesn't include release from confinement.
White died in November 2018 at the age of 70 while serving his sentence at the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange. Shelley, who pleaded guilty to murder and was also sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years, is lodged at the Little Sandy Correctional Complex in Sandy Hook.