APPEAL FROM WARREN CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE JUDY DENISE VANCE,
SPECIAL JUDGE NO. 15-CR-00425
COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Julia Karol Pearson Department of
COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear Attorney General of
Kentucky Leilani K. M. Martin Assistant Attorney General.
in Warren County convicted Robert Rigdon of murder.
Consistent with the jury's sentencing recommendations,
the trial court fixed his sentence at confinement for
now appeals as a matter of right, Kentucky Constitution
§ 110(2)(b), arguing that the trial court erred by: (1)
ordering increased security during trial; (2) admitting
testimony regarding the culture of the Iron Horsemen; (3)
permitting alleged-ex parte communication between the
Commonwealth and the trial court; and (4) overruling
Rigdon's motions for a mistrial. For the reasons set
forth below, we affirm.
night of September 26, 2012, Gleason Pyles was working at the
Tarter Gate Company in Dunnville, Kentucky. Pyles and Sam
Trulock were the only employees working that night, and the
two spoke briefly before parting ways. Shortly thereafter,
Trulock was filling up paint in a location away from Pyles
when he heard gunshots. Trulock returned to where he had
previously spoken with Pyles and found Pyles's body lying
on the ground, with gunshot-related injuries to his head.
Pyles suffered six gunshot wounds to his head and torso. DNA
evidence found on cigarettes at the scene matched
had been a member of the Iron Horsemen motorcycle club and
had recently left the group on bad terms with the local
chapter's president, David Salyers. There was
testimony that Pyles was also indebted to Salyers for a
motorcycle Salyers loaned him. Rigdon had just recently
become a "fully-patched" member of the Iron
Warren County jury convicted Rigdon of murder, and the trial
court sentenced him to the recommended thirty-eight
years' imprisonment. This appeal followed. We set forth
additional facts as necessary below.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the issues presented require us to apply different standards
of review, we set forth the appropriate standard as necessary
when addressing each issue.
The trial court did not err in permitting extra security in
to the start of Rigdon's trial, the trial court was
contacted by the Kentucky State Police (KSP). The KSP
recommended that it provide additional security for
Rigdon's trial based on unidentified threats it had
received, and the trial court ultimately agreed to the KSP
providing that security.
court's security measures are reviewed for an abuse of
discretion. Hill v. Commonwealth, 125 S.W.3d 221,
236 (Ky. 2004). An abuse of discretion exists where the trial
court's decision was arbitrary, unreasonable, unfair, or
unsupported by sound legal principles. Commonwealth v.
English, 993 S.W.3d 941, 945 (Ky. 1999).
objected to what he contended was an "unusual level of
police presence in and around the courthouse." The trial
court overruled that objection, citing numerous factors on
which it based its decision: the recommendation by the KSP to
have additional security for the trial; the fact that a
person with a knife had entered the courtroom during the
trial of Rigdon's accomplice; and the fact that the house
of a key witness against Rigdon had been burned down just
prior to trial, requiring that witness's relocation and
court ordered that the number of uniformed officers in the
courtroom would be limited to four, and that every person,
upon entering the courtroom, would be subject to having their
person and property searched and scanned with a metal
detector. At trial, only one uniformed officer and a bailiff
were present inside the courtroom and, although there were
additional KSP officers in the courtroom, they wore normal
court attire that varied from officer to officer. Based on
the information the trial court had before it, we discern no
abuse of discretion.
trial, Rigdon requested that the trial judge recuse herself.
His motion for recusal was based on "numerous uniformed
KSP officers" in the parking lots, the rotunda of the
courthouse, and the hallway leading to the courthouse
elevators; metal detectors in the courthouse rotunda and
outside the courtroom doors; four to five Administrative
Office of Courts personnel "wanding" each person as
they entered the courtroom; bomb-sniffing K9 units inspecting
the perimeter of the courthouse; five to six suited KSP
Special Response Team members in the courtroom; and the
"use of aircraft" to transport Rigdon from Fayette
County to Warren County. Defense counsel asserted that,
[i]t has become increasingly clear to defense counsel that
their client cannot and will not receive a fair and impartial
trial in this case . . . due to the massive and ridiculous
security measures employed in this case. Judge Vance has
become paranoid regarding the dangerousness of this case,
simply because it involves the Iron Horsemen Motorcycle Club
Clearly Judge Vance has been influenced by the fact that this
case involves . . . members of the Iron Horsemen Motorcycle
Club. She has clearly become frightened of it and this
unsupported fear has influenced her ability to handle this
case in a fair and impartial manner and by her irrational
belief that the jury has not been tainted by the extreme
surety [sic] measures. Counsel believes that Judge Vance
lacks the experience or desire to ensure that the Defendant [
] receive a fair and impartial trial given his affiliation
with the Iron Horsemen Motorcycle Club and must now recuse
herself. To do otherwise would irreparably violate the
Constitutional rights of the Defendant herein.
continues this same argument on appeal, contending that he
was denied his right to a fair trial and the presumption of
innocence under the United ...