WKYT Investigates: Waiting for justice
The pandemic put a lot of systems on pause, including our state’s justice system.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The pandemic put a lot of systems on pause, including our state’s justice system.
When the governor declared a state of emergency in March 2020, the state’s supreme court halted all jury trials. It wasn’t until May 2021 that judges re-opened their courtrooms. For more than a year, many victims waited for justice. We found out some are still waiting.
“I fight to survive every day to not look over my shoulder, or let him have power,” says Lisa Cambray. She hates reliving the days when she says her former partner held her captive, but with every pretrial conference and status hearing, she has to. She testified for a grand jury in the fall of 2017. The sexual abuse and rape case was supposed to go to trial before the pandemic.
“COVID is just a small fraction of the piece of what’s going on because things are getting back to normal, or as normal as they can be, yet my case isn’t,” notes Cambray.
Another case full of delays, pain, and heartache is Jesse Durham’s.
“I was beaten and I was shoved off an 80-foot cliff and left for dead, and my son was taken down the road and beaten to death, and it was absolutely horrible,” remembers Durham.
Durham’s son James died that day, in September 2017. She, like Cambray, has waited more than four years for a trial.
“I’ve spent years in therapy trying to work through this and heal, but how am I supposed to do that when I can’t get closure?,” questions Durham.
Prosecutors say COVID is partly to blame. Another factor in Durham’s case is that prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
“We have to call in so many more jurors to qualify them to be eligible to even get past the first stage to get to a jury panel, and how in the world if you have to call in 200 jurors in terms of restrictions and possibly maintaining social distancing can be a nightmare quite frankly,” explains Gary Gregory, Commonwealth Attorney for the 41st Judicial Circuit.
Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn is working through a backlog, created in part by COVID. Her office currently has about 2,000 open cases.
The state’s supreme court allowed judges to re-open their courtrooms, at their own discretion, in May of 2021. Since then, Red Corn’s only had 11 trials, six of which were homicide cases. She says there are other reasons for the backlog.
“There’s just a lot more information in any case than there was ten years ago, even the simplest case can have several body-worn cameras that prosecutors and defense attorneys have to review, you need to review all of the information. There’s more photographs, more videos, more interviews, just more of everything that has to be reviewed until and before a defense attorney feels comfortable in advising their client whether or not they should plead guilty,” notes Red Corn.
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