Gov. Bevin pardons man convicted of murder after crash in Laurel County

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - Governor Matt Bevin, R-Kentucky, has pardoned a man serving a 20-year sentence for wanton murder.

Gov. Bevin issued an unconditional pardon and commuted the sentence for Justin Wibbels.

Justin Wibbels collided head-on with a van in an emergency lane on KY-30 in Laurel County back in 2014. The driver was killed.

Wibbels was later convicted in 2015 and sentenced in early 2016.

Gov. Bevin issued the pardon last week, released Wibbels from prison, commuting his sentence and granting him an unconditional pardon.

Bevin called the crash a "tragic accident."

But that doesn't sit well with Laurel County Commonwealth's Attorney Jackie Steele.

"[It's] absolutely not right," said Steele. "An accident is an attentive driver who goes through a red light or runs a stop sign [and] has a wreck. That's an accident. A driver on a slippery road who loses control - that's an accident."

Steele says Wibbels was driving at an excess of 80 miles per hour on a busy two-lane road and passing traffic in the emergency lane. He eventually hit 61-year-old Jerry Thompson in his car.

"He knew exactly what the risks were when he was doing that, what the dangers were, and just ignore them and failed to abide by the rules of the road. That's exactly what wanton murder is and what the jury convicted him of," said Steele.

He calls the pardon a slap in the face to many, including the family, the jurors, the judge, and the Kentucky Supreme Court that reviewed the case and upheld the conviction.

At last check Gov. Bevin has issued a total of 70 pardons during his four years in office. Nearly 30 of those came this month. He broke what was common practice of Governors issuing all their pardons at the very end of their term. Instead Gov. Bevin has staggered the pardons he has issued.

Former Governor Steve Beshear issued 201 pardons on his final day in office. Former Governor Ernie Fletcher issues less than 100 pardons.

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