A Letcher County jury found a Jenkins man guilty of second-degree manslaughter in connection with the shooting death of his neighbor.
After deliberating for more than six hours, the jury convicted Samuel Todd Collier, 32, and recommended he serve 10 years in prison for shooting and killing 48-year-old Mark Joseph Sturgill on Oct. 7, 2010.
If Letcher Circuit Judge Sam Wright follows the jury’s recommendation, Collier would be eligible for parole after serving two years of the sentence, meaning that he could be released in eight months after receiving credit for time already served. A sentencing date has not been set.
During the four-day trial, Whitesburg attorney James W. Craft tried to prove that Collier acted in selfdefense while Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison Banks tried to prove that Collier provoked Sturgill by kicking his pet dog Jake.
“He was not justified in shooting and killing these two people,” said Banks. “I say people because some people refer to their animals just like family. He was like family. If you have pets you understand what I am saying.”
Although Collier did not take the witness stand during the trial, the jury heard the E-911 call Collier made to police soon after the shooting and a taped recording of an interview with Collier conducted by Kentucky State Police Detective Gary Sandlin the night of the shooting.
Sturgill took his mix-breed dog, Jake, for a walk on White Wolf Drive around 8 p.m. on Oct. 7, 2010. Collier said during the recorded interview that he was in his house watching television when his dog started barking.
“So he gets up and walks to the window and he looks down to where his father’s and his grandfather’s vehicles were parked (on the city right of way),” Craft told jurors during closing arguments. “And he sees somebody down there and I assume ation Center, $1,200,000; Water Projects, $2,000,000;
• Letcher County Fire Departments ($ 20,000 each), $200,000;
• Letcher County Road and Sanitation Fund, $1,800,000;
• Letcher County Senior Citizens, $500,000;
• Letcher County Parks and Recreation, $300,000;
• Letcher County Community Centers, $100,000;
• Letcher County Tourism, $200,000;
• Letcher County Planning Commission (to secure a federal prison for Letcher County), $50,000;
• Letcher County Rangers and Pine Mountain Search and Rescue, $50,000;
• Letcher County Clerk, $50,000;
• Letcher County Domestic Violence Shelter, $100,000;
• Neon Fire Training Center, $100,000;
• Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department, $50,000; and
• Letcher County Airport Board, $50,000.
Kentucky established a four-percent severance tax on coal in 1972 and increased it to 4.5 percent in 1976, with the requirement that the tax on a ton of mined coal be equal to at least 50 cents. About $6,750,000 — about half the total amount of severance tax that would be collected during the period — is expected to be returned to Letcher County during the years 2013 and 2014.
In other business at the fiscal court’s February meeting Monday, Sheriff Webb thanked the court for its help with the synthetic marijuana ordinance and said no synthetic pot is being sold now in Letcher County. However, Webb said that bath salts are still a problem and that although they are sold with a cautionary warning not to be ingested by human beings, his department continues to see the effects of their use. Webb said that at present the bath salts are not covered under any county or state ordinances.
Webb also told the court that his department continues to try to do more with less funding and thanked court members for the help they have been able to give to the department. Webb said the Kentucky State Police are shorthanded as well and are also trying to cover a larger area with fewer troopers. Magistrate Fleming told Webb that he believes that law enforcement and police protection are the absolute bedrock of services the county should provide for its citizens and said that everyone appreciates the department’s efforts.
Webb also praised Sheriff ’s Lt. Brian Damron for his work in breaking up a theft ring responsible for stealing copper from telephone lines that were being cut regularly in parts of the county. Webb said the ring was an example of how organized crime had penetrated into eastern Kentucky and said it was operated with crews who actively stripped telephone wire in the lower end of the county and sold it to recyclers. The sheriff also said he is trying to keep dispatchers working as often as possible with reduced funds and that he had paid overtime to keep a dispatcher in the office during the Sunday snowstorm and the following power disruptions.
Kentucky Department of Transportation representative Chuck Childers attended the meeting and presented this year’s Rural Secondary Road Plan to the court. Childers said the county will receive $1.4 million, which comes from federal fuel taxes, and that about $540,000 has been set aside for normal maintenance. He said that a small amount is set aside for administrative purposes and a certain portion is always given directly to the counties to be used for road work at their discretion. Letcher County’s portion this year will be $265,000.
Magistrate Gibson and Judge Ward both commented on a particularly dangerous stretch of KY 3410 near Cram Creek at Mayking that is undercut and needs a guardrail. Childers said the standard is different for getting guardrails, but that the stretch in question might qualify.
The court also received a report from Letcher County Tourism Commission Chairman David Narramore on the planned Streetscape Project in Whitesburg and voted unanimously to support a grant application by the tourism commission to enter into the planning stage of the project. When asked if he could estimate the overall cost of the entire project, Narramore said that part of the planning process would be to detail the costs of the project and to break it down into phases so it will be more affordable. Narramore told the court that the Streetscape Project would enhance tourism in Letcher County and Magistrate Fleming agreed, saying, “I’ve preached it for a long time, tourism is our salvation.”
Narramore also told the court the commission is working on another longrange tourism plan and is working to obtain an “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the City of Jenkins. Narramore said the last long- range plan is now complete and the commission is working with Jenkins and Fleming-Neon as well as Whitesburg to develop another and to enhance tourism opportunities in each city as well as throughout the county. To fund the planning and activity, Narramore asked the court to consider increasing the hotel tax that currently funds the tourism commission. He said it is a good tax because it would not impact local residents, who usually don’t use hotels in the county. County Attorney Hatton asked for time to look the proposal over before it comes to a vote.
In other business:
• The court voted unanimously to enter into a request for multi-county severance tax funds to be used to buy Global Satellite Positioning equipment to locate and register manholes, water valves, and fire hydrants in Letcher, Perry, Knott, Leslie, Breathitt, Lee, Owsley, and Wolfe counties. Perry County will act as lead on the project.
• The court voted unanimously to request that Kentucky 1862 (Mayking through Camp Branch) be designated as a coal haul road with extended weight certification.
• Magistrate Terry Adams asked the court to vote to explore recycling in greater depth before accepting franchise bids for sanitation. Adams said he believes that as much of 80 percent of garbage can be recycled, although he is not sure how the process would work. The court voted 5-1 to advertise for bids for franchising sanitation services as an information gathering measure after County Attorney Hatton said the county is ready to look at bids. Terry Adams cast the lone no vote.