A man serving life in prison misunderstood his guilty plea by thinking that prosecutors agreed he would be released the first time he is up for parole, the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled.
Donald Terry Bartley, 54, pleaded guilty in a 1985 slaying and robbery in Fleming-Neon. He was turned down for parole in 2009 and ordered to serve out the rest of his sentence. He sued the state, saying he should’ve been released, but the justices disagreed.
“Parole is at most a privilege, not a right,” they wrote in a sixpage opinion.
Justice Bill Cunningham backed the ruling but questioned whether the parole board has the authority to order someone to serve out a life sentence.
Cunningham noted that there are 177 people in Kentucky prisons serving life without parole in addition to 34 death row inmates. Ninety-seven people were sentenced to life without parole by judges, while another 80 have been ordered by the Parole Board to serve out the life sentence.
“The latter dispositions have been made by our parole board in spite of the fact that neither our courts nor our General Assembly have deemed these men ineligible for parole,” Cunningham wrote.
The governor appoints the nine-member parole board. Cunningham noted that the high court has long held the judicial branch of government lacked the authority to direct the executive branch to parole any inmate. But the court has not yet dealt with whether the executive branch, through the parole board, can impose a life sentence without parole.
“That question was not before us in this case,” Cunningham wrote. “The resolution of that issue awaits another day.”
Bartley pleaded guilty to playing a role in the 1985 slaying of Tammy Acker and the attack on her father, Dr. Roscoe Acker. The group stole more than $2 million. Dr. Acker survived a strangulation attempt, but Tammy Acker was slain, stabbed more than a dozen times with a large kitchen knife. A student the University of Kentucky, she had been due to return to school the next day.
Two co-defendants, 62-yearold Roger Dale Epperson and 61-year-old Benny Lee Hodge, were convicted of the killing and sentenced to death.