Last updated: July 18. 2013 5:01PM - 173 Views
TOM DOTY
Staff Writer



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PRESTONSBURG - The formal sentencing hearing for convicted murderer James Hunt began with an appeal by his defense attorneys for a new trial and, barring that, a new sentencing hearing.
Hunt, convicted in May for the 2004 murder of his wife, Bettina, sat stoically as his attorney, Harolyn Howard, argued that the commonwealth included a charge of burglary in the case in order to elicit the death penalty. Their argument was that someone who breaks into a home to steal personal property is committing a more heinous act when they murder the occupant.
But Commonwealth's Attorney Brent Turner, who prosecuted Hunt, said that the defense was misrepresenting the statute and noted that burglary merely constitutes breaking into a dwelling and often doesn't include property theft. He made the case that Bettina Hunt had an expectation of safety in her own home and that Hunt violated that by breaking into her home before he shot her to death.
The defense also argued that a charge of wanton endangerment was added to inflame the jury. The charge had to do with Bettina Hunt's 3-month-old grandchild being present and only a few feet away when Hunt shot her.
Turner did not accept the argument and added that it was impossible to know what went on in the minds of jurors or what they talked about before deciding to come back with a death sentence for Hunt.
Judge John Caudill overruled the motions and noted that the jury was most convinced by the 911 tape of the shooting, which they asked to hear twice during their deliberations. He then formally sentenced Hunt to be executed.
Hunt was convicted of his wife's murder by a Floyd County jury on May 31. The conviction followed two weeks of testimony which mainly saw evidence technicians take the stand and account for the security measures employed to protect evidence.
Evidence techs had a lot to work with in the case. Det. Terry Thompson was able to take Hunt's clothing into evidence on the night of the murder. Hunt wrecked his vehicle in a creek at Buck's Branch and was charged with drunk driving at the hospital after he was rescued from his vehicle and taken away for treatment.
Thompson was able to interview Hunt at the hospital and take Hunt's clothes, which were later found to have Bettina Hunt's blood on them. Thompson also provided the lab with shell casings form the scene, a bullet found in Hunt's car and a homemade silencer, fashioned form a Juicy-Juice bottle, that was left at the scene.
Phone records also played a part in the trial and proved that James Hunt called Bettina Hunt all day and became upset when he was told she was seeking a divorce from him. Phone evidence included a 911 tape of Bettina Hunt's call for help. The tape preserved an audio record of the incident and was played for the jury.
Howard tried to steer the jury towards other possible suspects during the trial, but her efforts met with little success in the face of the physical evidence preserved by KSP according to strict procedures which saw several witnesses testify to merely bagging and logging evidence, as well as reports of who they released it to and what tests were performed on it.
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