The case involving the accused Marshall County High School shooter is scheduled for another status hearing on March 8.
Gabe Parker, who was 15 at the time of the January 23 shooting and is now 16, is being tried as an adult on two counts of murder and 14 counts of first-degree assault. He is being represented by defense attorney Tom Griffiths. Commonwealth’s Attorney Mark Blankenship is representing the prosecution along with Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jacob Ford.
In a status hearing on Friday in Marshall County Circuit Court, Ford said police and prosecution needs more time to go through “a great deal of evidence” that includes more than 600 gb of data from student cell phones.
Griffiths had no objection provided an agreed order would be drafted allowing the defense to review the materials when they are available.
Ford said there are no pending DNA tests at this time. He requested a protective order for a surveillance video that he said he didn’t want to to get into the “wrong hands.” After the hearing, Blankenship told media, "This is a case where we're not going to have to have witnesses describe what happened for the jury to understand. We're going to literally be able to show them a video of the crime." He said the video would be disturbing to loved ones and doesn't want it made public.
Griffiths said he understood the difficulty and volume of data in the case and noted that defense would not wait until everything is in before reviewing materials.
After the hearing, Blankenship told media that he learned this case has the most discovery that the state police has ever had. He said any motions that need to be made involving a change of venue or competence should be made by the March date.
After the hearing, Griffiths told media that in a case as serious as this and with as much evidence, it takes a long time to get everything together. He said he just recently received thousands of documents and said thee are thousands more. "People speculated that even just the initial material might be as much as 2,000 witnesses. If it's that high, it's really sort of mindboggling to plan the time to review it all. And that's not counting the material on the phone... the medical records... which I have to look through."
Competency and Charges Against Stepfather?
On whether he would seek a competency evaluation, he said he is looking at "every single possible explanation," but wouldn't specify. Griffiths said the case has become a "political football" for elections this fall and expressed a concern that in 'doing his job' criminal charges could be brought against his client's family. "I think the only reason that potential charges like that would be pursued would be because people want to get votes in November," he said.
"I'm not going to step one foot into the national gun debate," Griffiths said, when asked about the recent Washington Post article that asked whether Parker's step-father should be charged for not locking up his gun. A detective said in testimony that Parker had told them he obtained his stepfather's pistol from a shelf in the bedroom closet. In the article, Blankenship mulled "going after" the stepfather, but admitted it'd be difficult to prosecute him in Kentucky. Griffiths said Blankenship's statements "muddy the water in a case which is already a storm that disrupts everything in this courthouse and disrupts the lives of everybody in Marshall County."
Blankenship said the question had nothing to do with politics, but rather considered early on in the case an interpretation of Kentucky's wanton endangerment statute involving gross indifference to human life. "And I'm thinking I can make a decent argument to a grand jury," that if the subject of this trial had a mental defect or disease and symptoms. He said if that's the case, and there's a documented problem determined by an expert, it's wanton conduct if the owner of the gun didn't have the gun where a child couldn't get it.
"I think it's time to make this statement that if you're going to leave guns in a way that kids can just walk in and pick them up and take them to school with them, if something happens with that gun, I think the owner of that gun needs to stand and be looked at and be looked at their accountability on it," Blankenship said.
Blankenship noted it's a politically risky position to take in a 2nd amendment state like Kentucky. "But I think it's time in this country... that we need to start being more careful with the accessibility of guns, especially with children. And I think our legislature - they're either frozen on it. They don't want to address it. They think it will hurt them politically."
Change of Venue
On whether he would request a change in venue, Griffiths said it's difficult to imagine a circumstance to find 12 people in Marshall County whose lives haven't been disrupted by this case. "I just think it'd be awfully hard to find 12 folks who can sit down and start this case over from scratch... and that's just awful hard to do in something like this. It may be impossible."
Blankenship said he should the defense request a venue change, he wants enough time for that court system to prepare and cooperate and hopes to see a motion within 90 days. "We're not afraid to try this case in any count in the state," he said. He said he believes the trial should be outside of the coverage areas of local media in west Kentucky.
Blankenship added other charges involving family members is "completely separate" from the current case and may "never come off the ground" or be pursued by the grand jury.
Judge Jameson said he doesn’t want to delay the case and said it’d be best for all parties to move things along. Both the prosecution and defense agreed.
The next hearing is scheduled for March 8 at 1 p.m. at the Marshall County Judicial Building.
The judge and attorneys hope to set a trial date at that March hearing.