Defendant loses gamble when jury convicts
by TOM DOTY
“We rolled the dice is all I know,” Billy Shepherd said Tuesday, after a jury found him guilty of eight criminal charges related to fleeing a police officer.
Shepherd was talking to his brother, who was 20 feet away in the observers section of the courtroom, while the jury was out on a recess along with the judge assigned to the trial, John D. Caudill.
“We crapped out,” he said.
His brother tried to give him encouragement, saying, “Good behavior, you'll get out in no time.”
The exchange followed one day of testimony in a case that centered on a high-speed chase along Route 80 that culminated in a wreck and subsequent foot chase on Christmas Eve, 2004.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Stacy Marshall called two witnesses for the state, which included former Martin police officer Steve Montgomery, who was involved in the 2004 pursuit, and former Prestonsburg police officer Brian Kidd, who arrested Shepherd for a similar set of violations involving a pursuit on March 1, 2003.
Each testified that they initially went after Shepherd due to his truck having no tail lights. They also reported that Shepherd took off at a high rate of speed when they activated their flashers.
Their tales were also similar in their conclusions, with each catching up to Shepherd after he wrecked and, in both instances, observing that Shepherd took off on foot after exiting his vehicle.
Kidd noted that his chase ended when an assisting officer was able to intercept Shepherd as he crossed a creek behind the Mountain Arts Center. Montgomery's incident, and source of the trial, did not end with another officer giving assistance. Montgomery related that he pursued Shepherd up a hill off Long Fork Road and was surprised when Shepherd turned and leapt on him, which brought the pair tumbling down the hillside and ended with the officer caught up in some barbed wire which became attached to his equipment belt. Shepherd was able to free himself and escaped on foot before Montgomery could get untangled.
The chase began on Route 80 near Martin when Montgomery noticed the defective tail lights on a white pickup driven by Shepherd. Montgomery signaled for Shepherd to pull over, but the vehicle took off and ran the red light at Route 122, where it almost collided with another vehicle. Montgomery was able to catch up to Shepherd when a hard left off Long Fork Road resulted in Shepherd losing control of the truck and crashing into a fence post.
Shepherd was apprehended later due to the fact that Montgomery recognized him and brought his report to the county attorney's office, which later charged Shepherd with driving on a revoked license, fleeing police, wanton endangerment, reckless driving, assault, disregarding a traffic signal and resisting arrest.
Shepherd was later involved in another chase and agreed to enter a guilty plea to that incident, which was scheduled for trial in July, after receiving the guilty verdict Tuesday.
Judge Caudill accepted a sentencing recommendation from the commonwealth which will see Shepherd serve five years for the crimes he was convicted of and an additional two years for the other chase which netted Shepherd a seven-year sentence.
Caudill thanked the jury and explained that their work solved two cases for the courts and noted that he will sentence Shepherd formally on Feb. 24 after receiving a pre-sentencing report from probation and parole. Caudill can, after reading the report, opt to reject the sentencing recommendation and allow the jury to come back and finish its commitment to the case by recommending a sentence should the report indicate that Shepherd merits a stronger sentence.
Shepherd's defense, which was conducted by Pikeville attorney Steve Owens, did not go smoothly, with two witnesses called who offered conflicting stories. Shepherd's mother appeared and said that she was with Billy all afternoon and evening on Christmas Eve. She appeared secure in her recollection but later changed her mind, saying it was the evening of the Dec. 23 that they spent together. Her account included a statement that the white pickup was used by Billy's brother Tom on the 24th but that was impossible due to the fact that it was impounded after the chase which took place around 3:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve.
The story took another hit when a young lady who dated Tom Shepherd testified that she and Billy Shepherd's mother were together with him on the evening of the 24th. She also noted that she knew it couldn't have been on the Dec. 23 that they were together because she recalled visiting her aunt and uncle on that date.
During closing arguments, Owens only referred to the mother's testimony and said that “memory is a funny thing” and illustrated the point by saying that he often forgets where he parked his car. Owens asked for less forgiveness for officer Montgomery and reminded the jury that Montgomery made an error before the grand jury which indicted Shepherd when he gave them the date he arrested Shepherd as the date of the incident, though it in fact occurred two months earlier.
Marshall closed by seizing on Owens' statements about memory, reminding the jury that Shepherd's mother was very certain at the start of her testimony that she was with Billy on the afternoon and evening of Dec. 24. He offered that she got confused only later in her testimony and expressed his concern that the jury not be confused when they deliberate.
While the jury was out on its final recess, Shepherd talked openly in the courtroom to his brother and appeared indifferent to the presence of bailiffs and Marshall, as well as Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Wayne Taylor. He said he would get himself a hot rod upon his release. He smirked at a bailiff's advice that he just stop the next time he saw blue lights in his rearview mirror and went on to note that his security level at the Big Sandy Regional Detention Center was such that he could only move about the grounds while under the watch of a guard.
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