Rather than stand trial and risk possibly spending the rest of his life behind bars, a Corbin man instead pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to murder in exchange for prosecutors recommending a 20-year prison sentence.
Paul Parsons, 50, pleaded guilty to two counts of capital murder in the June 17, 2017, killings of Denver Nicely, 47, of Corbin, and Joshua C. Wernicke, 29, of Keavy. Parsons also pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree burglary in connection with the incident.
In exchange for the guilty plea, special prosecutor Jackie Steele recommended 20-year prison sentences on both murder charges, and a 15-year prison sentence on the burglary charge to be served at the same time or concurrently for a total sentence of 20 years in prison.
“Taking into consideration all the evidence I saw coming into play here at trial, possible defenses and other options the jury would be given as to lesser included sentences, I believe it was a good plea for the commonwealth,” Steele said.
“Mr. Parsons is an older individual. With a 20-year sentence, he is going to be in his mid-60s when he is released. I believe the plea also takes care of the safety of the community also.”
A 20-year prison sentence is the minimum sentence for murder, which can carry a sentence of up to life in prison. The penalty range for first-degree burglary is 10 – 20 years in prison.
Murder is classified as a violent offense under Kentucky law, which means that Parsons will have to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.
According to Whitley County Detention Center records, Parsons has been incarcerated there since his June 7, 2017 arrest, and has been held in lieu of a $1 million cash bond.
Whitley Circuit Judge Dan Ballou scheduled formal sentencing in the case for Feb. 3 at 1 p.m.
Steele said that plea negotiations between himself and Parsons’ attorney, Mike Brophy, started during the later part of last week, and continued throughout the weekend.
Shortly after lunch Monday, Steele said that the two sides were able to finalize the plea agreement.
Steele noted that the investigating detective and Wernicke’s mother both signed off on the plea agreement.
“Obviously some people aren’t happy with it. I understand why. It is not a perfect system but it is the best one that I am aware of,” Steele added.
The shooting occurred shortly before 2:30 a.m. on June 7, 2017, inside a residence at 550 Fred Nash Lane, which is located just off Gordon Hill.
Parsons allegedly beat on the door of the trailer and yelled, “I told you I would be back,” and then shot the two men with an assault rifle, Kentucky State Police Detective James Royal testified during a June 13, 2017, preliminary hearing.
Tosha Wernicke, who was Joshua Wernicke’s wife, told police that Parsons had gone to the trailer a few days earlier armed with either an AR-15 or AK-47 assault rifle, and that he threatened Nicely.
Tosha Wernicke told police that the matter stemmed from a robbery that the two victims had committed earlier, Royal testified without elaborating on the alleged earlier robbery.
Parsons admitted to police that he had gone to the trailer days earlier making threats, but denied that he was armed at the time or that he had anything to do with the shooting, according to testimony and court documents.
In Parsons’ vehicle, police recovered four AR-15 magazines loaded with the same brand of shell casings found at the scene, Royal testified.
Parsons’ estranged wife told police that her husband came to her residence on the morning of the shooting very upset and armed with an AR-15 rifle, which he left there. Police took the gun into evidence, Royal testified.