After years of court battles, Kenneth S. Bartley may have just come to the end of his legal road.
On Monday, the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected Bartley’s application to have his case heard by it.
In July, Bruce Poston, Bartley’s attorney, requested the state’s highest court hear why his client’s guilty plea should be voided and the youth granted a new trial. That application came just weeks after the state court of criminal appeals upheld Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood’s denial of a new trial. Blackwood was appointed to hear the case after Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton stepped down from the case early in the proceedings.
However, on the third attempt to have Bartley’s guilty plea thrown out allowing him to face a jury, the answer remained the same- Bartley will have to serve his 45 years.
“I am not surprised but I am pleased,” said District Attorney General Paul Phillips after the decision was announced. “That is absolutely the correct decision.”
Poston, who was out of town due to a family emergency, had not heard the decision. After being told, he called it “very disappointing.”
“It would have been better for everyone concerned if the case could have gone to trial,” Poston said.
However, that course of action came to halt as a jury was being seated for Bartley’s 2007 trial. Just after lunch on the first day, both sides informed Blackwood that a plea agreement was in the works.
That is where the nucleus of Poston’s case was.
In the arguments, he made to Blackwood and the appeals court, Poston said when Bartley agreed he was guilty of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder, the young man simply didn’t understand what he was doing.
Neither court concurred with him upholding the 45-year prison sentence. That made Poston’s next judicial stop the state supreme court.
But the case was rejected by that branch of the court system.
Should Bartley want to continue to fight for his day in court, the next step, under state law, would be to ask the court for post conviction relief. If granted, that could set aside Bartley’s guilty plea. The decision to pursue that would have to be made and acted on in the next year.
Poston said on Tuesday post conviction relief would have to be discussed with the family before acting on it.
He also said that could prove to be an uphill challenge. “That (obtaining post conviction relief) is very difficult with a plea,” he said.
To make a case for that type of legal remedy would mean Poston’s argument hinging on an allegation that Bartley’s constitutional rights were violated. Phillips said an approach of that nature would have “no merit.”
With the denial by the supreme court, Phillips said he is hopeful the families can now begin to find closure in the case.
In November 2005, Bartley shot and killed Campbell County High School Assistant Principal Ken Bruce. The shots fired from his pistol that day also wounded then high school Principal Gary Seale and assistant principal Jim Pierce.
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