Man charged with murder pleads to lesser charge
by Cris Ritchie
HAZARD – A Perry County man charged with murder following a fatal 2011 crash could be sentenced to 10 years in prison after entering a plea to a lesser charge this week.
Circuit Judge Bill Engle accepted an Alford plea from 20-year-old Eric Ison during Ison’s appearance in court Thursday morning. An Alford plea means that Ison maintains his innocence, but admits that the evidence against him indicates guilt, and he would be best served by pleading guilty.
Ison has been lodged at the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard on a $1 million bond since November. He was alleged to have been under the influence when his vehicle crashed into another vehicle being driven 68-year-old Bobby Napier, of Breathitt County.
Napier died as a result of injuries he sustained in the collision, while Ison was transported to the Hazard ARH medical center where police said he failed a field sobriety test.
Ison originally pleaded not guilty in January following his indictment by the grand jury on charges of murder, third-degree possession of a controlled substance and DUI second offense.
While in court this week, Ison entered his plea to an amended charge of second-degree manslaughter, a Class C felony which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. The plea agreement would also have Ison pleading guilty to the other charges in exchange for a total of 10 years to serve. Since the manslaughter charge is a Class C felony, he would be eligible for parole after serving two years.
A charge of murder carries a maximum of life in prison.
Defense attorney David Johnson noted that while the toxicology report showed that there were intoxicating substances in Ison’s system at the time of the crash, the analysis was unable to quantify the concentration of those substances to determine whether the levels were therapeutic or intoxicating.
He added the inconclusive nature of the report was due to either there not being enough drugs in Ison’s system, or that the machine used to complete the analysis was not trustworthy.
Johnson said that the plea agreement announced on Thursday, while not final until sentencing next month, is a fair outcome to the case.
“I believe this was a fair outcome based upon the evidence the Commonwealth had, the problems that they had with the case, and based on the problems the defense would have had with the case had it gone to trial,” he said.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Reed was out of the office Thursday afternoon, but while in court that morning agreed with Johnson that the toxicology report was inclusive as to the amount of drugs in Ison’s system.
Several members of Bobby Napier’s family were in the courtroom as well, all of whom agreed that Ison should have to serve the entire 10 years, and not be eligible for parole before then.
“He was the only brother I had left, and he (Ison) took him away from me,” Lloyd Napier, Bobby Napier’s brother, said while in court.
Though Judge Engle accepted the plea on Thursday, the case won’t be final until Ison is formally sentenced on July 26. He had been set to go to trial on Monday.
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