Attorneys oppose death penalty for Barren murder suspect

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2023

By Justin Story, Bowling Green Daily News

GLASGOW – The defense team for a man charged in a deadly shooting in Barren County wants to have the death penalty removed as a potential punishment for him if he is convicted, citing a diagnosis of a mental illness.

Aaron Aiden Rodriguez, 26, of Nashville, is under indictment on charges of murder and first-degree robbery.

He is accused of shooting Melissa Miller, 54, of Glasgow, on May 23, 2021, in the 100 block of Ann Avenue.

Miller died at T.J. Samson Community Hospital.

Barren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Gardner has filed notice of intent to seek enhanced penalties against Rodriguez, including the death penalty, based on a Kentucky statute that makes a case eligible for capital punishment if the defendant is found to have committed a murder in the process of another violent crime.

Attorney Wesley Boyarski of the Department of Public Advocacy filed a motion Sept. 11 asking for the death penalty to be excluded as a possible sentence.

Boyarski cites a state law that holds that no offender with a serious mental illness can be executed.

Boyarski’s motion said Rodriguez has been assessed for a serious mental illness by a doctor, who determined that Rodriguez has bipolar disorder.

“As Mr. Rodriguez is seriously mentally ill, the commonwealth cannot constitutionally kill him,” Boyarski said in his filing.

Gardner filed a response to that motion Thursday in which he argued that Rodriguez has not alleged that he had active symptoms of bipolar disorder at the time of the shooting and has not shown a documented history with a diagnosis of that illness.

A separate motion filed Thursday by Gardner asks for Rodriguez to undergo a mental health examination at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center if the court does not deny the motion from Boyarski to exclude the death penalty.

At a hearing held Monday, Barren Circuit Judge John Alexander urged the attorneys involved to draft orders for him to sign directing Rodriguez to be evaluated at KCPC for symptoms of any serious mental illness and to undergo another evaluation there to determine if any illness affects his capacity to accept criminal responsibility.

Rodriguez will return to court Oct. 16 for a hearing on a separate motion filed by Boyarski and his co-counsel, Zanda Myers of the Department of Public Advocacy.

Rodriguez’s defense team, in a motion filed Sept. 11, has requested Gardner’s office to produce any records of an offer of immunity, plea offer or other promise or agreement extended to any witness the prosecution plans to call at trial.

That request names Haylie M. Shouse specifically, and while her role in the shooting is not described in the motion, the Glasgow Police Department said a woman drove the white four-door sedan that also carried the suspected shooter to and from the scene.

The defense team has also requested the prosecution produce any forensic interviews taken at any child advocacy center of a juvenile witness who is said to have been present at the shooting.

Also, Rodriguez’s attorneys have requested a list of all the cases assigned to recently terminated GPD Detective Guy Turcotte in which a female suspect was alleged to be complicit but not ultimately charged with a crime.

Turcotte has been the lead investigator in this case, but was recently terminated by the city after being found to have violated GPD’s policies of ethics and code of conduct.

Turcotte, a former GPD chief, has a pending harassment case against him in Barren District Court based on allegations of inappropriate contact with a woman at the pet grooming business where she works.

According to court records related to the 2021 shooting, witnesses told the GPD that a person had fired a shot from the passenger seat of a vehicle, and a family member of Miller’s said the suspect had come to the residence to buy a laptop computer after the sale had been arranged over Facebook.

“Melissa Miller’s phone showed that the subject who had arranged the transaction purported to be Shawn Buchanan,” Turcotte said in an arrest warrant.

Further investigation of Miller’s phone enabled police to learn a possible location for the person with whom she had been communicating, which tracked to a Nashville address.

Police learned that the address was associated with Rodriguez, and Turcotte contacted police in Nashville with the information, asking investigators there to check the address for a vehicle matching the description of the vehicle at the scene of the shooting.

“Tennessee authorities then informed Turcotte that they had an arrest warrant for Rodriguez for a theft that had occurred nearly the same way in Tennessee, namely, a theft of an item during a transaction that had been arranged on Facebook under a false name,” the warrant said.

Rodriguez was arrested in Tennessee on the warrant from that state, and he was found in possession of a firearm matching the caliber of firearm used to shoot Miller, the warrant said.

“Rodriguez is also the registered owner of a white Ford Fusion matching the description of the vehicle identified by witnesses at the crime scene,” the warrant said.

The case is currently set to go to trial Jan. 30.