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.