A Somerset man charged with murder in connection to a road rage altercation that occurred on US 27 in June 2019 has a new trial date.
Thomas Ray Burton, 64, is now scheduled to stand trial on January 25, nearly a year after his first date of February 21, 2020. He faces one count of murder in connection to the death of 73-year-old Ervin G. Phillips.
The case stems from a "fight in progress" call at the intersection of US 27 and Ky. 80 (Traffic Light #4) on June 10, 2019, that Somerset Police Officer Jordan Hoseclaw responded to.
SPD reported at the time that witnesses told officers a verbal exchange between Burton and Phillips, also of Somerset, ultimately "escalated to Burton striking Phillips with a blunt type weapon." Witnesses indicated that both men left their vehicles -- Phillips with a cane in his hand and Burton with "some type of long object."
Burton allegedly struck Phillips more than once with the object and Phillips fell as a result, SPD reported from witness statements. The witnesses also stated that once Phillips fell, Burton returned to his vehicle and proceeded south on US 27.
Phillips was transported by Somerset/Pulaski County EMS to Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital. He never fully regained consciousness well enough to speak with investigators, according to SPD, and passed away June 28, 2019.
Once located and interviewed by SPD, Burton reportedly told officers that Phillips pulled out in front of him and then proceeded to continuously hit his brakes as they traveled south on US 27. Burton allegedly acknowledged beginning a verbal argument with Phillips which led to both men exiting their vehicles to continue the argument. Burton stated that Phillips poked him with his cane which then prompted Burton to pick up an object from inside his vehicle to defend himself.
SPD said officers located video of both the Phillips and Burton vehicles traveling on Ky. 2227 prior to turning onto US 27, which reportedly showed Phillips turning onto Ky. 2227 from McKee Road well in advance of Burton's approaching vehicle.
Following his arrest last summer, Burton pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and was initially held in lieu of a $250,000 cash bond. On April 3, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Burton was released on a $50,000 surety bond on the condition that he wear an ankle monitor. That order was amended to allow the monitor to be removed in June.
All went well enough until July 6 when court records indicate that Burton got into an altercation with Jason Lee York. According to preliminary information from SPD, York sought the warrant himself, claiming that "Burton struck York with a cane" when he stepped between Burton and Shannon Blevins, Burton's daughter and the surety for the $50,000 bond, as they argued.
In regard to the misdemeanor assault charge, Burton has pleaded not guilty in Pulaski District Court and is next scheduled for a pretrial conference on March 10, 2021.
In light of the new charge, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney David Dalton filed a motion to revoke bond in the murder case but Pulaski Circuit Judge Jerry Cox instead allowed Blevins to be removed as surety. Burton was again released from the Pulaski County Detention Center on August 10 with the posting of a $50,000 unsecured bond and home incarceration conditions.
Judge Cox, who was appointed by Governor Andy Beshear to serve through the General Election after former Judge David Tapp was appointed to the United States Court of Federal Claims, won't be presiding over Burton's trial. Running to fill Tapp's unexpired term through 2022 are Teresa Whitaker, a retired public advocate who oversaw Kentucky's death penalty cases, and Walt Maguire, who retired as Family Court Judge but has also presided over District Court.