July 25, 2013
by Amelia Holliday — Staff Reporter
HAZARD — The Perry County Commonwealth’s Attorney will not accept a plea deal in the case of the shooting deaths of three individuals at a local community college earlier this year.
Dalton Stidham, 21, was charged in January with three counts of murder after allegedly shooting and killing the mother of his two-year-old son, 20-year-old Caitlin Cornett, her 53-year-old uncle Jackie Cornett, along with Jackie Cornett’s daughter, 12-year-old Taylor Cornett, at the Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC) campus during a custody exchange.
An informal pre-trial conference was held in the case on Wednesday, and Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hansen told the Herald there would be no plea deal offered for Stidham.
“At the Commonwealth’s discretion, we are simply taking this matter to trial,” Hansen said, who filed a notice to seek the death penalty in March.
According to circuit court documents, a motion for a continuance was filed by defense attorney Tom Griffiths later that day and will be heard on Aug. 1. Reasoning for the continuance, as listed in the motion, was to allow for more time for the defense to build its case and conduct a mental evaluation of the defendant.
“This continuance was not sought until the Commonwealth indicated that they would seek the death penalty. (The) notice to seek the death penalty completely changes the nature of the case, and requires counsel to engage in additional complex tasks in order to be ready for trial and comply with the ethical guidelines surrounding the defense of a capital case,” the motion read.
According to the motion, the defense will need to not only complete a full investigation before trial of the charges brought against Stidham, but also an investigation into his complete life history, including “inquiries into social background, evidence of family abuse, history of drug and alcohol abuse, and evidence of mental impairment.” The insertion of a mitigation specialist is necessary for this process, which will add to the time needed for preparation.
Stidham is currently set for trial on Sept. 9.