KY Supreme Court declines to rule on death penalty for those under 21

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Thursday, September 19, 2019 at the Center for Rural Development in Somerset, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Jacob Eads

The Kentucky Supreme Court has balked at a chance to decide whether criminal defendants between the ages of 18 and 21 can face the death penalty.

The state’s highest court declined to interfere Thursday in two Fayette Circuit Court cases involving young defendants facing the possibility of the death penalty. One case at issue involves the prosecution of two men charged in the 2015 murder of UK student and Kernel photo editor, Jonathan Krueger.

Yesterday, the court ruled the defendants’ appeals lack standing because their trials have yet to be held. As a result, their cases will be sent back to Fayette County for trial.

“…None of the appellees has been convicted, much less sentenced, and thus none has standing to raise an Eighth Amendment challenge to the death penalty,” reads a portion of the court’s unanimous opinion.

These appeals to the Supreme Court come after a 2017 decision from Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone that ruled imposing a death sentence on anyone younger than 21 would be unconstitutional. 

The cases in question involve those of Efrain Diaz Jr. and Justin D. Smith, who are both charged with Krueger’s murder, and Travis Bredhold, who is charged with the 2013 murder of gas station attendant Mukeshbhai Patel. 

All defendants were between the ages of 18 and 21 when these crimes were committed. 

Patel was killed while working at a Lexington Marathon gas station, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. He had moved from India to the United States 10 years prior in search of a better life for his wife and their two sons.

Krueger was shot and killed on East Maxwell Street during a robbery in April of 2015. Krueger’s mother says she was “stunned” when she received word about the Supreme Court’s Thursday ruling.

“I’ve been waiting and watching since it went there in 2017, and I just kind of, out of habit, went to check and was absolutely stunned when I saw it,” said Mary Krueger. “It was like I’ve been waiting forever, but to see it was a surprise.

However, she says the ruling does provide some relief to the families who have been waiting years for word from the court. 

“I was relieved, because it’s not our case with Jonathan, but it’s the case with the other family, the Patel family. We’ve been in limbo for years,” she said. “At least I feel like at this point, with that decision behind us we can maybe start moving forward and moving this to a resolution…it’s been a long time.”