HAZARD – An indictment against a Perry County man charged with killing three people during a shooting at Hazard Community and Technical College last month was returned on Monday after it was found that a grand jury member did not live in Perry County.
Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hansen said there are motions being made this week to re-indict the other 22 cases that were indicted last week.
Dalton Stidham made his first appearance in Perry Circuit Court this week, where he refused to enter a plea. He has remained in jail since Jan. 15 after admitting to police that he shot Caitlin Cornett, Jackie Cornett, and Taylor Cornett in the parking lot of the First Federal Center at HCTC. Caitlin and Jackie Cornett were pronounced dead at the scene, while 12-year-old Taylor Cornett died at the University of Kentucky medical center the following day.
Stidham was indicted on three counts of murder on Feb. 15, and appeared during his arraignment on Thursday. His refusal to enter a plea was not meant to deny what happened, said Will Collins, one of Stidham’s attorneys with the Public Defender’s Office. A guilty plea, however, would have been premature until defense attorneys can review all of the police and forensic reports, and other facts of the case.
“The victims’ families are in plenty enough pain. I don’t think they need to have that pain exacerbated, and it could possibly be by misinterpreting a not guilty plea,” Collins said. “Rather than do that, we chose the course we did.”
In accordance with Kentucky rules of procedure, defendants can enter a plea of not guilty, guilty, or guilty but mentally ill. A defendant can also opt to refuse to enter a plea, and when this happens the judge presiding over the case is tasked with entering a not guilty plea for the defendant. Judge William Engle did that on Thursday before assigning subsequent court dates.
Stidham, who is currently being held without bond, is slated for trial on Sept. 9, with a pretrial date of July 24. He is next scheduled to appear in court on April 11 for a status hearing.
Hansen said his office is currently considering whether or not to seek the death penalty, and he expects to make a determination in that regard soon.
“We’ll be making a decision sometime next week,” Hansen said.
In the meantime, Collins noted that his office will be reviewing the case closely in an attempt to come to some understanding as to how and why this shooting occurred.
“We will look literally at every aspect [of the case],” Collins said. “We will go down and make sure we’ve touched all the possible reasons that might have anything to do with helping us understand, helping the court understand, helping everybody understand just how this horrible thing came to be.”