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CCPS makes masks in school optional
  • Updated

Christian County Public Schools made masks inside the buildings optional on Thursday at the regular school board meeting.

Superintendent Chris Bentzel made the recommendation to make masks optional after giving the “Healthy at School” report about the COVID-19 trends in the district.

“Right now, I believe the district is in a very good place,” Bentzel said. “The numbers are now nothing compared to the spike we saw in September.”

The district has seen new COVID-19 infections plateau in recent weeks and after consulting with local doctors, Bentzel said that now is the right time to make masks optional.

“We talked with local pediatricians and they thought it was a good time to try it out and see what the numbers look like between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Bentzel said. “It’s a three-week window and if we have to go back (to wearing masks), we can do that and we’ve got Christmas break as a reset as well.”

Since vaccines are now approved and available for children ages 5 and up, that also made it the right time.

“Why are we doing that now? It’s important to note that as of yesterday, all of our students have an opportunity to get vaccinated,” Bentzel said. “It’s out there and available if parents choose to do so. That layer of protection is available for all our students now.”

Feedback from the district stakeholders was also taken into consideration.

“A lot of the feedback that we got from our parents and students was that it was time to go to a mask option for our students,” Bentzel said. “I understand parents know what’s best for their kids. I’m not trying to be a parent to all the students of Christian County Public Schools. We just try to make the best decisions possible at the time. I think it’s time.”

Students and staff will still be allowed to wear masks in the buildings if they choose to do so.

“Masks are allowed,” Bentzel said. “It’s just an option. We’re not not saying you can’t wear them.”

Bentzel added that other measures meant to slow the spread of COIVD-19 will stay in place.

“We’ll always continue to offer the mitigation strategies of handwashing, social distancing when applicable, close contact quarantines... and stay on top of everything,” Bentzel said.

The change does not affect wearing masks on schools buses. Masks will continue to be mandatory on buses, since that is a federal mandate.

The board voted unanimously to approve the measure to lift the mask mandate. The motion also gave the superintendent the power to reimpose the mandate without a board vote if it becomes necessary to do so.


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Drug court works
  • Updated

It was a time of celebration on Wednesday as five new graduates completed Christian County Drug Court and were recognized for their accomplishment of getting on the road to recovery and sobriety.

Shannon Davenport, Coty Flynn, Derrick Tillman, Devin Johnson and Mindy Keller were all congratulated by Judge Andrew Self and Judge John Atkins during the graduation ceremony.

For Davenport, the experience started with her forced detox while in jail.

“Going to jail was one of the best things that has happened to me,” she said.

Once she started to recover from that, she said she decided she wanted to be healthy for her family — especially her children.

“I no longer wanted to be everybody’s burden or a disappointment,” Davenport said.

And she said she was thankful that drug court allowed her to get her life back.

“Drug court is not easy, if so — everybody would make it,” Davenport said. “But you will make it if you want to.”

Johnson said the drug court program and residential treatment helped him improve himself in order to begin to kick his drug habit.

“I didn’t have a drug problem — I had a me problem,” Johnson said. “You have to work on yourself on the inside.”

In closing, Atkins said that he has a sticker on the door to his office that says, “Drug court works.”

“I want to improve on that saying, because drug court works if you work drug court,” Atkins said.

The Christian County Drug Court program has 15 active participants, including the five who just graduated.

Drug Court was Kentucky’s first Specialty Court program and has a long track record of significantly reducing drug use and criminal behavior. Instead of spending time in jail, Drug Court participants choose to complete a substance use disorder program supervised by a judge. Drug Court graduates are more likely to return to productive lives and stay gainfully employed, pay child support and meet other obligations.

The Department of Specialty Courts at the Administrative Office of the Courts oversees Drug Court programs in 120 counties.

Individuals eligible for Drug Court have been charged with drug use or nonviolent drug-related crime, with their main problems stemming from substance use disorder. Drug Court combines close court supervision and treatment with other services to intervene and break the cycle of substance abuse and crime.

The program uses a team approach that involves collaboration among local judges, Drug Court staff, prosecutors, defense counsel, treatment professionals, law enforcement officers and other community agencies. Drug Court staff work closely with treatment providers and other community resources to offer a comprehensive approach to recovery and help participants regain control of their lives.

Participants are required to take part in mental health sessions, self-help groups and frequent urine screening. They also must obtain employment. The felony program lasts a minimum of 18 months and the misdemeanor program lasts a minimum of 15 months. Those who successfully complete the program may have their charges dismissed through diversion or be granted conditional discharge through probation.

Since being implemented in 1996, Drug Court has successfully combined a strong treatment component with the legal weight of law enforcement. The program provides alternative services for much less than the cost of incarceration.

People charged with offenses related to substance use disorder who are interested in being considered for Drug Court should talk with their attorney about a referral.


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AP
Beshear promotes COVID-19 boosters ahead of Thanksgiving

FRANKFORT(AP) — A week ahead of Thanksgiving, vaccinated Kentuckians should make sure to get a booster shot to help ward off another surge of coronavirus cases, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.

“We have more tools approaching Thanksgiving than ever before, and more people eligible,” the Democratic governor said at a virtual news briefing. “Make sure that when you sit down at that Thanksgiving table with the people you love, you have the highest level of immunity to protect them.”

Kentucky recently joined other states in opening up booster shots to all adults despite federal recommendations that states limit doses to those considered most at risk.

Beshear signed an executive order Wednesday that made adults living and working in Kentucky eligible for a booster shot six months after their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, or two months after a single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Wednesday, some 446,698 Kentuckians have had a booster shot.

Beshear's announcement comes as Kentucky experiences a slight uptick in cases after weeks of decline: the number of total cases last week was higher than the previous two weeks. The state's test positivity rate has also risen to 6.18% from 5.51% last Thursday, furthering concerns about the waning immunity of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Waning immunity is real. We are seeing more people who’ve been vaccinated in the hospital, especially six months after their second shot,” Beshear said.

Hospitals in Kentucky continue to be stressed by the plateau of new cases. For instance, eight of ten of the state’s hospital regions have Intensive Care Unit capacity at or above 87%, with only 140 beds available statewide.

Kentucky reported 1,855 new coronavirus cases and 40 virus-related deaths Thursday. Roughly 27% of new cases were of new cases were school-age children.

According to state data, 58% of the total state population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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Second Ghost Bridge murder suspect enters guilty plea
  • Updated

The second of the two men accused in the 2016 Ghost Bridge murder case entered a guilty plea Thursday afternoon before Christian Circuit Judge John Atkins for his involvement in the shooting death.

Leonardo D. Miller, 24, appeared in person in Atkins’ court along with his Paducah-based defense attorney Clayton Brown to officially enter a plea deal.

Miller is charged two separate cases — for the murder case, Miller is charged with murder, first-degree robbery and tampering with physical evidence. In his second case, Miller is charged with theft by unlawful taking over $500, but less than $10,000.

After a series of questions by Atkins ensuring that Miller was in the right state of mind and was not being forced or coerced into entering the plea, Atkins asked Christian County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rick Boling to then read the plea offer into the record for the court.

Miller entered a plea that carried a total sentence of 40 years in prison. Boling explained that the deal carried 40 years for murder, 20 years for robbery, five years for tampering and another five years for his separate theft case.

All of those sentences and both cases were to run concurrently, or at the same time, for a total of 40.

Boling also shared that the commonwealth is opposed to probation and shock probation and that Miller would not be eligible for parole until after he has served 20 years in prison.

Atkins ultimately accepted Miller’s guilty plea.

“Based on this record, the conversations I’ve had with Mr. Miller and my familiarity with the tendered documents, I accept the plea of guilty,” Atkins said to the court.

Following the plea, Atkins scheduled Miller’s final sentencing hearing for Jan. 12.

This news comes just weeks after Miller’s codefendant in the murder case, Deqavion James, 23, attempted to withdraw his guilty plea in the case with his defense attorney, which was ultimately denied by Atkins.

The judge held a hearing on Nov. 5 to consider allowing or denying James to withdraw the guilty plea he had entered in late June.

According to New Era archives, James’ defense attorney Ted Shouse reiterated to the judge that he had made the motion on James’ behalf due to confusion James had when entering the plea with his prior defense attorney.

Shouse originally argued the motion on Oct. 6, however, Atkins deferred to give his ruling on the matter until Wednesday in order to give Shouse additional time to talk with James about the plea he previously entered to possibly continue with the offer and advise him that if his plea were to be withdrawn, James could receive a harsher sentence if found guilty by jury.

Shouse reminded Atkins of his arguments at the hearing on Nov. 5 and stated that after he had spoken with James, the two wanted to move forward with the motion to withdraw.

Shouse added that he also informed James about the possibility of receiving a harsher sentence if the case were to go to trial and a jury found him guilty of his original charges.

James was originally charged with murder, first-degree robbery and tampering with physical evidence. He previously entered a plea amending his murder charge to first-degree manslaughter while he was represented by private attorney David Rye.

That plea carried a recommended sentence of 20 years on first-degree manslaughter, 10 years for first-degree robbery and one year for tampering with physical evidence to run consecutively for a total of 30 years in prison.

Rye had to withdraw as his attorney after hearing that James intended to withdraw his guilty plea, which is required by court law if a defendant advises the court of the intent to withdraw a plea.

James also confirmed to Shouse that he had been confused about his plea due to language that had been “scratched out” after he initially reviewed the offer.

Shouse explained during the Oct. 6 hearing that the plea offer that James and Rye reviewed included language that said, “All felonies sentences listed SHALL run concurrently with each other by law.”

However, Shouse said that that language had later been crossed through by Boling and instead, included language that required James’ sentence to run consecutively rather than concurrently.

Shouse also argued that the language was scratched from the offer the day of the entry of his plea and that caused James confusion and that he did not fully understand his parole eligibility as well as the exact nature of what his sentence would be.

After hearing from both Shouse and James himself, Atkins ultimately denied the motion on the basis that he believed James fully understood his plea offer at the time he entered it.

Shouse then informed the judge that he would likely be filing an appeal on Atkins’ ruling.

James’ final sentencing hearing is currently set for Dec. 1.

Also according to archives, on the night of Palmer’s murder on July 16, 2016, James was told by Miller to shoot Palmer. James shot Palmer once before Miller shot him a second time. Palmer later died from the two gunshot wounds.

Miller is currently charged with murder, first-degree robbery and tampering with physical evidence. Miller is also charged with theft by unlawful taking over $500, but less than $10,000 in an unrelated case.

James and Miller are accused of dumping Palmer’s body near Ghost Bridge on Carter Road in Oak Grove. Palmer was reported missing July 16, 2016. His body was discovered four days later.

James turned himself into police on July 27, 2016, after Kentucky State Police released information indicating he was a suspect in the murder. After turning himself in, James allegedly admitted to police he killed Palmer.

Miller was arrested Aug. 5, 2016, at the Christian County Jail where he was being held on a theft charge.

Archives continue to state that KSP Detective Scott Smith testified that he believed James shot Palmer twice in Miller’s home, wrapped Palmer’s body in a blanket and put trash bags over his head and legs before putting him in a closet.

Smith also told the court all items were removed from Palmer’s pockets, including $150, a phone and other items.

The pair then allegedly cleaned up the house and took Palmer’s body to Ghost Bridge, where they dumped it and left. They reportedly used a truck Palmer had been borrowing from a relative. The truck was tested and evidence was reportedly found in the bed of the truck, Smith said.


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