GEORGETOWN, Ky. (WKYT) - The murder trial for a man accused of killing a Lexington attorney in a hit-and-run crash was scheduled to begin on Monday, but the case took an unexpected turn. Instead of jury selection starting, Odilon Paz-Salvador changed his plea. Paz-Salvador pleaded guilty in Scott Circuit Court in front of Judge Paul Isaacs. The defendant faced charges of murder, wanton endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident, fleeing or evading police, and no operator's license.
The Commonwealth recommended he spend 35-years for the murder charge, and one year for the remaining charges to be served concurrently.
Police say Paz-Salvador was drunk when he ran over and killed Lexington attorney Mark Hinkel who was participating in a cycling event in 2015 in Scott County. According to police, the driver crossed over the line on Lemons Mill Road, overcorrected, then hit Hinkel head-on before fleeing the scene. Police arrested Odilon Paz-Salvador about three miles away at a trailer park on Lisle Road.
Just last week, the judge held hearings discussing evidence in the case. The defense wanted evidence obtained in the case thrown out. The judge denied that request.
The Hinkel family was inside the courtroom on Monday for the hearing.
Bennett Bayer worked alongside Hinkel for many years. He said, "In this case it meant bringing some finality, some form of closure for the family. Certainly it would have been very difficult for the family to sit through a jury trial. There would have been a lot of moments that would have been very upsetting for them to relive. Plus, you just never what is going to happen in a jury trial."
Paz-Salvador would not be eligible for parole for 20 years. Judge Isaacs scheduled a formal sentencing for October. The judge noted in court that his guilty plea could impact his status in the United States.
"Life is precious, you guard it carefully. You have to move forward as best as you can with each day as it occurs. That is the message that the family wants everyone to understand. Today is about moving forward, so that they can begin putting their lives back together and start moving forward," explained Bayer.
He added, "Mark has not left us at all. There's a lot of people that on a regular daily basis still remember Mark and still talk about Mark. Certainly within his family, his life continues. I doubt that anyone will forget Mark Hinkel anytime soon."