Life Without Parole For 25 Years For Convicted Murderer, Suspected Gang Leader

By James Zambroski

(LOUISVILLE) -- After four hours of deliberating Monday, the jury that found Kenneth Parker guilty of two murders decided his fate Monday. He avoided the death penalty and was sentenced instead to life in prison without parole for 25 years. As WAVE 3 Investigator James Zambroski reports, Parker could have been sentenced to die by lethal injection.

Parker, the suspected leader of the Victory Park Crips, was convicted Saturday of murdering LaKnogony McCurley in 2000 and William Barnes in 2002.

The jury also found Parker guilty of three attempted murders and one count each of first-degree assault, second-degree assault, robbery, tampering with physical evidence, trafficking in a controlled substance and criminal syndication.

But jurors could not reach verdicts on five other charges, including the 2001 killing of JaJuan Stephenson.

The jury had a number of options from which to choose, ranging from a 20-year sentence to death by lethal injection.

As it turned out, life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years is the least severe of the capital punishments he could have gotten. Parker could also have been sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Even with the sentence, Parker will still spend many years in prison, and there's no guarantee he will be paroled in 25 years, said prosecutor Tom Van De Rostyne.

Parker's lawyer, David Mejia, noted that Parker, 26, could get out of prison in about 20 years with time served -- when he's about 51 years old.

Mejia told us he believes the prosecution pushed too hard for the death penalty and that the jury reacted to that. He also indicated that several appeals will likely be filed in this case.

Van De Rostyne said Monday night that prosecutors had not decided whether to retry Parker on the charges the jury deadlocked on.

Parker didn't react when Judge Stephen Ryan read the sentence recommendation. Some members of his family later expressed relief.

In closing arguments, prosecutors urged jurors not to let the defense play the "race card."

It's not about being black in the west end ladies and gentlemen," said prosecutor Ryane Conroy. "It's about being evil. And that's what he is."

"I've never said to this court, and I've never asked any jury ever to consider someone's race as to whether they should get the death penalty or not.

During testimony at the sentencing phase of Parker's trial on Monday, he spent the day listening to his family plead for his life.

Four family members and a friend were allowed to address the jury on Parker's behalf, recounting Parker's childhood in the west end's Victory Park. "It was a poor situation, and it never got better," said Parker's uncle, Ed Mack.

Family members said Parker's life started out tough as the oldest of five kids, born when his mother was only 15. The jury heard that Parker played dad to his younger siblings, while his real father was in and out of mental hospitals and jail.

His mother was described as a cocaine addict. Another uncle, Lamont Taylor, said Parker's mother would often "come up missing for a couple weeks."

Although Parker's mother, Sandra Parker, seemed to become the scapegoat through much of the testimony, she also spoke on his behalf. "I played a big role in my son's life," she said, "as far as it taking another direction."

She begged jurors not to sentence her son to die. "I'm just asking for your mercy: could you please give my son another chance."

However, Conroy pushed the jury hard for the death penalty. "Kenneth Parker needs to die for what he did to two members of our community."

Parker was not allowed to address the jury during Monday's proceedings, but he did read a statement in court, part of which read:

"I've made many bad choices in my life, but I am still a man who feels love and pain.... I hope that you as jurors and human beings can see that I'm a person who is not an animal, and who is capable of rehabilitation."

After the verdict was read, there was some sense of relief. "They didn't take his life, and that's the best thing," said Bridgette Todd, a cousin of Parker's. "We can still communicate with him."

Mejia thanked the jury for sparing Parker's life. "The jury could see the evidence for what it was, could see that this was a person deserving consideration."

The prosecution also seemed satisfied. "I convicted his client of both two murders and most of the charges in the case, and he's going to prison hopefully for the rest of his life," said prosecutor Tom Van De Rostyne. "I'll accept that as a defeat any day of the week."

An aunt of LaKnogony McCurley's promised that her family would fight release for Parker.

"Justice is served," LaKa Wilson said. "And in 25 years, we will be there for parole. He will not get out."

Formal sentencing is set for Oct. 27.

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Online Reporter: James Zambroski

Online Producer: Michael Dever