Kentucky man sentenced to 30 years for 2018 murder of ex-girlfriend

Published 4:37 am Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Kentucky man who pleaded guilty to the 2018 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Margaret “Meg” Smith, was sentenced to a total of 30 years incarceration Friday morning.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate sentenced Derek Garten in accordance to the commonwealth’s recommendation — 30 for murder; five years for tampering with physical evidence; and 12 months for violating a Kentucky Emergency Protective Order/Domestic Violence Order (EPO/DVO) — all to be served concurrently.

Garten, 41, entered a plea of guilty but mentally ill to the three charges against him — murder, a capital offense; tampering with physical evidence, a Class D felony; and violation of Kentucky EPO/DVO, a Class A misdemeanor — in August.

According to Franklin Circuit Court records, the Commonwealth extended the plea offer to Garten on June 9. He entered into the plea agreement on Aug. 9 and his sentencing was originally scheduled for Nov. 12 but was delayed three weeks.

“A guilty but mentally ill conviction serves as an in-between classification whereby a defendant bears legal responsibility for his criminal acts, but is provided treatment while incarcerated,” Franklin County Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland explained, adding that Garten “appeared to have an underlying pre-existing condition of paranoid schizophrenia worsened by methamphetamine use.”

The guilty but mentally ill plea does not replace the not guilty by reason of insanity defense, but is an additional choice. Those who plead guilty but mentally ill are sentenced in the same way as if they are found guilty.

It is up to the court to determine whether and to what extent mental illness treatment is required. Treatment will continue until a health official determines it to be complete or until the defendant has served his sentence — whichever comes first.

“Because Garten has been convicted of murder, a violent offense, he is not eligible for release on parole until he has served 85% of the sentence imposed,” Cleveland told The State Journal stated.

Wingate said Garten will receive credit for time served.

At Friday’s sentencing members of Smith’s family read their victims’ impact statements.

“You took the life out of all of us. I still don’t understand why you did this to her,” said one family member. “She put you before herself and did everything for you. Why did you do this, Derek?”

Another family member stated that he had forgiven Garten, adding that if he didn’t then God wouldn’t forgive him.

“You might think you are at the end of your rope, but maybe this is a new start for you,” the family member said in court. “If I was you, I’d pray to God to forgive me and He will. Once you meet God, you’ll be swept off your feet. You’ll be a new man.”

Garten’s attorney, Kristin Gonzalez, read a statement on his behalf.

“I am truly sorry,” she read. “I hope they find some peace and closure on this day.”

Court records indicate Garten had a history of physical, verbal and mental abuse against Smith, who took out an emergency protective order against him roughly seven months before he shot and killed her at her residence on Meadow Glen Drive in West Frankfort on July 3, 2018. An autopsy determined she died from a single gunshot wound to the back of her head.

The day before she was murdered, Smith, 39, contacted local authorities because Garten had posted threatening messages on her social media account. She was concerned that he would harm her before court action could be taken.

“My only concerns are the accusations against my son. I need to protect him from this,” Smith told authorities.

Per the plea agreement, Garten admitted to entering Smith’s residence and killing her while an active EPO was in effect.

“The defendant thereafter concealed the firearm used to kill the victim to prevent it being available as evidence in a trial,” the guilty plea reads. “The defendant was mentally ill when he committed these offenses.”

In court documents, Billy Jo Turner, 41, drove Garten to Smith’s house in the early morning hours of July 3, 2018. Turner, who pleaded guilty to amended charges of criminal facilitation of murder, a Class D felony; criminal facilitation of tampering with physical evidence, a Class A misdemeanor; and criminal facilitation of violation of Kentucky EPO/DVO, a Class B misdemeanor, told police after he parked in Smith’s driveway Garten got out with an assault rifle and entered the house from a rear gate. He reported hearing a female scream then Garten ran to the car and yelled, “Go, go. She’s dead.”

Turner told authorities that after the murder the pair went to an Adams Lane residence and Garten changed his clothes. He also said that Garten “threw the rifle in the river” off Old Lawrenceburg Road and that he dropped Garten off on East Main Street.
Turner served 13 months of the five-year sentence, which made him parole eligible. Per his plea agreement, he was to testify against Garten had the case gone to trial.

While evading police on the day after Smith’s murder, Garten burglarized a home in Owen County — stealing collectible coins, pocket knives, two revolvers, a case of .22-caliber bullets and lawnmower, according to a report in the Owenton News Herald.

Two days later with various law enforcement agencies closing in on the Bryan Station Inn in Lexington where Garten was holed up, he posted a message on Facebook admitting responsibility for Smith’s death.

“This is the end of (the) road for me today … I was set up from the beginning. I shot Meg and would do it again. She was evil,” he wrote. “She was hurting my son. She abused the position she was trusted with and she hurt my son so many times I sent her back to hell where she needs to stay.”

Then-Franklin County Sheriff-elect Chris Quire, a former Western Hills classmate of Garten’s, was able to talk him out of the motel ending an hours-long standoff without incident. Garten was armed with the two guns that were later matched to the burglary at the residence in Owen County.

Garten is currently incarcerated in the Scott County Detention Center in Georgetown.