Prosecutors seeking death penalty for triple murder
by Cris Ritchie
HAZARD – A Perry County man charged in a triple murder case could face execution after prosecutors filed their intention to seek the death penalty.
Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hansen filed a notice on March 27 that he will be seeking the death penalty against 21-year-old Dalton Stidham, who is accused of shooting and killing three people outside of Hazard Community and Technical College on Jan. 15. Two of the victims, Caitlin Cornett and her uncle Jackie Cornett, were pronounced dead at the scene, while 12-year-old Taylor Cornett died the following day at the University of Kentucky medical center.
Stidham turned himself in to police on the evening of Jan. 15, and according to officers with the Hazard Police Department admitted to the shooting after he was placed under arrest. He was indicted in February on three counts of murder and declined to enter a plea during his first appearance in Perry Circuit Court. He is currently lodged in the Leslie County jail without bond.
According to his notice filed in the Perry Circuit Clerk’s Office, Hansen cited state law authorizing the use of the death penalty, specifically that the murder resulted in multiple deaths and caused “great risk of death” for more than one person in a public place.
“This is something we feel is necessary given the defendant’s actions,” Hansen said on Tuesday. “The facts of the case made our decision for us.”
Defense attorney Will Collins commented in February that Stidham’s declining to enter a plea was not meant to deny what had happened, but a guilty plea would have been premature so early in the case. Collins said on Monday it is still too early to determine when Stidham might enter a plea, but he is hopeful the case can be resolved without a costly and traumatic jury trial. Cases in which prosecutors are seeking a death penalty can take years to complete and millions of dollars to try, he said.
“I hope we can work it out without putting the state to the expense, without putting the victim’s families to the additional trauma,” Collins said.
Stidham is currently set for trial on Sept. 9. He is due back in court on April 11 for a status conference.
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