Shackling accused killer forces mistrial

Shackling accused killer forces mistrial
Rasheed Javon Wickliffe (Source: Family photo)
Rasheed Javon Wickliffe (Source: Family photo)
Alexander Cole Roberts (Source: Nelson County Jail)
Alexander Cole Roberts (Source: Nelson County Jail)

BARDSTOWN, KY (WAVE) - Gwen and Ricky Wickliffe had been bracing for Thursday -- which marked one year since their son Rasheed was stabbed to death.

But what's more heartbreaking than a second Christmas without him; knowing that his accused killer probably will spend the holiday at home, with his family.

"I find it hard to believe that they can pay so much attention to these shirts," Gwen Wickliffe said, referencing T-shirts and lapel buttons that declared support for her son. "But they couldn't pay attention to the fact that he walked into the courtroom with shackles on."

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"He" is 19-year-old Alexander Cole Roberts. After three delays, he was set to go to trial Monday for Wickliffe's murder.

Instead, Circuit Judge Jack Seay declared a mistrial after officers led Roberts into the courtroom in street clothes but still cuffed and shackled. The jury pool saw it all.

"The defendant has the right to be dressed in an appropriate manner in court so the jury doesn't get the wrong idea about them," said Brian Butler, Roberts' attorney. "They can decide the case based on the evidence."

Butler called the actions an "accident or inadvertent mistake."  The Wickliffes aren't buying it.

"(Bailiffs are) very aware of what they're supposed to do and what they're not supposed to do," Ricky Wickliffe said.  "I have to wonder whether it was deliberate."

Roberts had been set for trial in June. Then October. Then early November -- delayed again until November 28. Prosecutors asked for each continuance to prepare evidence.

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"We were ready to proceed today and we're just as shocked as anybody," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Chip McKay. "I won't say whether the mistrial decision was right or wrong, but (Roberts) could have had grounds for appeal had this continued and he been convicted."

Nelson County Sheriff Ed Mattingly was among those investigating the procedural breach, his office confirmed Monday. Mattingly has not responded to WAVE 3 News' requests for comment.

Wickliffe's parents said he had planned to attend Bluegrass Community & Technical College in Lexington to study welding.  A 2015 graduate of Bardstown High School, he'd played linebacker on the football team.

Eleven days after his death, fellow graduates and former classmates gathered on the field for a vigil for him.

"This was all supposed to be over a $40 bag of pot," his father said.

Investigators based their conclusions on testimony from a friend of Wickliffe's, who reportedly told deputies that they had gone to Bloomfield to sell marijuana to Roberts.

"All (Roberts) came up with was $7 and a broken cellphone," Ricky Wickliffe said.  The friend is alleged to have told investigators that Roberts stabbed the younger Wickliffe in his neck. The friend's information led to Roberts' arrest within hours.

Until Monday, his bond was $500,000 full-cash. But citing the delays, Butler persuaded Judge Seay to lower the bond to $50,000 cash or $100,000 in property.

McKay expects family members to meet those requirements within days; certainly by Christmas.

A new jury pool will be drawn at year's end, Butler said. Roberts' tentative date for trial is January 10.

"The delays have hurt us too," Gwen Wickliffe said.  A brace covers her right leg from thigh to foot, the result of a knee injury following a car wreck earlier this month, the same day Roberts' trial was delayed.

"I blacked out at the wheel," Ricky Wickliffe said. "They don't know what's causing it. Stress, definitely."

Rasheed was their middle son, of three.

"We have to be strong for him," his mother said. "We have to be the ones, we have to be his voice--to fight for justice for him! Because he's not here!"

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