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Huddleston v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Kentucky

February 15, 2018



          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Daniel T. Goyette Adam Braunbeck Louisville Metro Public Defender

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky Jeffrey Allan Cross Assistant Attorney General



         Appellant, Quinton Huddleston, appeals from a judgment of the Jefferson Circuit Court convicting him of murder, for which he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, criminal attempt to commit murder, and several other related crimes. As grounds for relief, he contends that the trial court erred by: (1) denying his request to introduce parole eligibility information during the capital sentencing phase of the trial; (2) permitting the Commonwealth to introduce during the guilt phase evidence of other crimes committed by Appellant against the victims' family; and (3) allowing the testimony of a witness who was three years old at the time of the crimes and six years old at the time of the trial. For the reasons explained below, we affirm.


         Appellant and Tanisha Gordon broke up after a tumultuous relationship that included instances of domestic violence. A short time later, Appellant forced his way into Tanisha's apartment where he killed her brother, Joshua Gordon, by shooting him in the chest. Appellant then beat Tanisha with his gun and shot her in the face. Tanisha survived, but Appellant's attack left her with devastating injuries. Her three-year-old son, LaMartez, witnessed the shootings. Later, at the age of six, he briefly testified at Appellant's trial as a witness for the Commonwealth.

         The Commonwealth elected to seek the death penalty and the case was tried accordingly. Appellant did not deny that he killed Joshua and attacked Tanisha. He claimed that he did so because of an extreme emotional disturbance. He testified that he went to the apartment with no intent to engage in violence, but when he realized that his relationship with Tanisha was over and that he would not be able to raise LaMartez as his son, he was overtaken by an extreme emotional disturbance impelling him to violence. The . jury rejected Appellant's defense and found him guilty as charged.

         Although the jury found the existence of a death-qualifying aggravating circumstance, upon completion of the capital sentencing proceeding, it recommended a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Appellant and the Commonwealth then agreed to concurrent sentences on the remaining crimes. This appeal followed.


         The fact that Appellant was tried and convicted in the same trial for both capital and non-capital crimes posed some penalty-phase complexities for the trial court. KRS 532.055, entitled "Verdicts and sentencing by a jury in felony cases, " spells out the truth-in-sentencing process generally applicable in any felony case, while KRS 532.025 details essential sentence-determining factors that pertain only to the process for fixing the penalty for a capital crime when the death penalty is a possible sentence.

         As an aside, we review the interplay between KRS 532.055 and KRS 532.025 mindful that in Commonwealth v. Reneer, we recognized KRS 532.055 as "a legislative attempt to invade the rule making prerogative of the Supreme Court by legislatively prescribing rules of practice and procedure [and therefore] it violate[d] the separation of powers doctrine enunciated in Section 28 of the Kentucky Constitution." 734 S.W.2d 794, 796 (Ky. 1987). Nevertheless, in the spirit of comity, we declined to hold KRS 532.055 unconstitutional and we agreed to follow its process, at least "for the time being." Id. at 798. We recently reiterated our recognition of that legislative incursion, and our continuing acceptance of it as a matter of comity, in Jackson v. Commonwealth, 481 S.W.3d 794, 799-800 (Ky. 2016). We continue that policy now.

         Returning to the matter at hand, in Francis v. Commonwealth, reconciling what we saw as an inconsistency in the two processes set forth in KRS 532.025 and KRS 532.055, we held that "in any case in which the death penalty is sought, the capital penalty sentencing phase pursuant to KRS 532.025 should be conducted before the truth-in-sentencing hearing under KRS 532.055(2) and the PFO proceeding per KRS 532.080 are held." 752 S.W.2d 309, 311 (Ky. 1988). Our purpose was to prevent the capital sentencing process from being tainted by truth-in-sentencing information admissible under KRS 532, 055. Significantly, at the time of the Francis decision, KRS 532.055(3) expressly stated that the truth-in-sentencing provisions of KRS 532.055 "shall not apply to sentencing hearings provided for in KRS 532.025 [for death penalty sentencing]." (Emphasis added.)[1]

          As a natural corollary of the Francis rule, we held in Perdue v. Commonwealth that "when the death penalty is sought, evidence of minimum parole eligibility guidelines may not be introduced at all." 916 S.W.2d 148, 163 (Ky. 1995). "[P]arole eligibility information which is fully admissible under KRS 532.055 has no place in a death penalty hearing pursuant to KRS 532.025. Under no circumstances should parole eligibility enter into death penalty deliberations." Id. at 164 (citing Francis, 752 S.W.2d 309).

         At the conclusion of the guilt phase of his trial, Appellant asked the trial court to combine the death penalty sentencing phase of the trial with the truth-in-sentencing phase. In connection with this request, Appellant specifically asked that he be allowed to introduce the parole eligibility information relevant to prison sentences that the jury might impose in lieu of the death penalty.[2]Appellant wanted the jury deciding the death penalty to know that if sentenced to imprisonment for a term of years, Appellant would still serve a very long period of confinement (85% of the total sentence or 20 years, whichever is less) before becoming eligible for release on parole. The trial court and the prosecutor agreed that there was no sound reason to exclude the parole eligibility standards relevant to the possible non-death capital crime penalties. However, the trial court was bound to follow the dictates of Perdue, and so it denied the motion. On appeal, Appellant contends that this exclusion of parole eligibility information relevant to capital crime sentences was error, and he invites us to reevaluate the Francis and Perdue holdings in that regard.

         Appellant's argument has merit because in 1998, after Francis and Perdue were decided, the General Assembly deleted from KRS 532.055(3) the language upon which the Francis and Perdue holdings were predicated.[3]. The sentence, "This section [KRS 532.055] shall not apply to sentencing hearings provided for in KRS 532.025 [for death penalty sentencing], " was stricken from the statute. Whatever reservation the General Assembly formerly held against the application of the truth-in-sentencing provisions of KRS 532.055 to death penalty sentencing under KRS 532.025 was abrogated in 1998. Although many of our post-1998 cases continue to apply the Francis/Perdue holding, none offer any rationale for retaining the rule.[4]

         By its plain language, KRS 532.055 applies generally to all felony prosecutions. Murder is defined by KRS 507.020(2) as a capital offense, which is one of five felony classifications established by KRS 532.010.[5] It follows that without the express statutory prohibition that guided this Court in Francis and Perdue, the truth-in-sentencing statute, KRS 532.055, on its face would apply to the trial of a murder charge.

          As part of its truth-in-sentencing mission, KRS 532.055(2)(a) 1 permits introduction of parole eligibility information in the penalty phase of a felony trial.[6] KRS 532.025 contains no inconsistent provision pertaining to death penalty sentencing. Since explicit exclusionary language in the pre-1998 version of KRS 532.055(3) was the reason for the Perdue rule, the removal of that language from the statute also removed the rational underpinning for Perdue. The rule persists ...

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