Judge denies Kentucky man’s attempt to withdraw guilty plea in 2019 shooting death in reported drug deal

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, February 22, 2022

A Franklin Circuit Court judge denied a local man’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea in a case regarding the 2019 shooting death of Xavier Cochrum.

On Friday, Jason Hart, the newly-hired attorney for 20-year-old Elijah Amburgey, asked Judge Phillip Shepherd to consider his client’s motion. In an order filed on Monday, the judge denied the request.

Last month, through his previous lawyer public defender Brad Gordon, Amburgey pleaded guilty to amended charges of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault, both Class C felonies, in connection to a Sept. 30, 2019, shooting in Indian Hills.

In addition to killing Cochrum, Amburgey wounded 19-year-old Ezavion Peyton and fired toward Patrick Greenlee on Sept. 30, 2019, in what investigators described as a drug deal gone wrong.

According to court documents, Amburgey told local law enforcement that he didn’t fire the gun in self defense “but because they had disrespected and disobeyed him.”

The three survivors — Amburgey, Greenlee and Peyton — gave conflicting accounts of what happened that night.
Greenlee said Cochrum texted him looking to buy marijuana and he arranged the transaction with Amburgey.

Amburgey, who was residing at his grandmother’s home at the time, testified that Cochrum tried to use counterfeit money to pay for $100 worth of marijuana. He said when he told all three men to leave, Peyton hit him.

Peyton, who law enforcement authorities found in the backyard that night, told investigators that he was selling the marijuana and Amburgey tried to short-change him. That’s when, he said, Amburgey pulled a handgun from underneath a coffee table and started firing.

Cochrum’s body was found lying facedown in the driveway by first responders. Autopsy results indicate that he was shot three times — once in the left side of his chest and twice in the left side of his back — as he ran away from Amburgey.

Peyton sustained a gunshot wound to his right arm and was transported to Frankfort Regional Medical Center where he was treated and released. Greenlee escaped injury.

Amburgey was originally charged with murder, a capital offense; first-degree assault, a Class B felony; and first-degree wanton endangerment, a Class D felony. The wanton endangerment charge was dismissed per the plea agreement.

Earlier this month, Shepherd denied his motion for home incarceration pending sentencing.

“The only reason he accepted this plea is because it was negotiated that he would be released pending sentencing,” Gordon, Amburgey’s former attorney, argued in court before the judge intervened.

“Let me stop you,” Shepherd said. “It was not in the paperwork and nobody has the authority to commit to anybody what the court is going to do on a motion like that.

“I’m not a potted plant. I have the authority to make an independent judgment on this matter and that’s what I’m going to do,” the judge added.

Amburgey’s sentencing date is set for March 18. He is facing a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison — 10 years on each count. The commonwealth has recommended a 10-year sentence.

In his latest order denying Amburgey’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea, the judge wrote that there is no valid basis to approve his request.

“The defendant has received the benefit of the bargain negotiated in the plea agreement, through the amendment of the charges from murder and assault in the first degree to manslaughter in the second degree and assault in the second degree,” Shepherd wrote. “The Court’s decision on whether to release the defendant from custody pending sentencing is simply not relevant to validity of the plea agreement and it does not provide any basis to set aside the guilty plea.”

The judge also noted that allowing Amburgey to withdraw his guilty plea “would impair the administration of justice, cause additional delay in the final adjudication of the case and impose burdens on the court system.”

“In addition, it would impose additional burdens on the victims and their families,” Shepherd wrote.

“He is no longer entitled to the presumption of innocence. He pleaded guilty to a crime involving the use of a firearm and the death of a young person and a serious injury to another young person in this community. There is no basis to set aside his plea of guilty.”