HAZARD—Almost one and a half years after the triple-shooting murder, a Perry County man has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.
Dalton Stidham, 22, of Hazard, was indicted last year on three counts of murder for the shooting deaths of Caitlin Cornett, Jackie Cornett, and Taylor Cornett, in the parking lot of the First Federal Center at HCTC in Hazard during a custody exchange in January. Caitlin and Jackie Cornett were pronounced dead at the scene; 12-year-old Taylor Cornett died at the University of Kentucky medical center the following day.
Stidham was originally entered into a not guilty plea by the court after refusing to enter into a plea himself. His attorney, Will Collins, with the Perry County Public Defender’s Office, explained at that time that this would allow for more time for evidence to be gathered in the case.
Perry County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hansen filed a motion in March 2013 to seek the death penalty in the case. Earlier this year, Hansen put a different offer on the table for Stidham—three life sentences to be served consecutively, with no chance of parole.
Stidham accepted the plea deal, and on Thursday afternoon was sentenced in Perry County Circuit Court by Judge William Engle to life in prison with no chance of parole.
While Judge Engle said he did not want to say anymore about the proceedings than he had in court, he said he sentenced Stidham in accordance with the plea deal set forth by the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Family members of the victims of the shooting were given an opportunity to speak to the court and to Stidham before his sentence was handed down.
Missy Cornett, wife of Jackie Cornett and mother to Taylor Cornett, had one resounding question for Stidham, who chose not to speak at the sentencing—why?
“What do you say to the person who took your world,” Cornett said in court on Thursday. “Why did you have to take my family, Dalton? Why is such a big question, and I wish he was man enough to speak up and tell me why.”
Cornett went on to say that she was glad this ordeal would finally be over for her family since there would be no chance for a drawn out appeals process, and that real healing could start.
“You took my past, my present, and I’ll be damned if you take the rest of my family’s future,” she said.
The Herald reported last month that Hansen said dropping the death penalty for the life sentences had nothing to do with the defendant, but everything to do with the Cornett family.
“They (the family) are at peace with the decision. I would have liked to have seen the death penalty, but I know what happens once the death penalty is granted. I know what happens when the death penalty is overturned, which more than likely it is,” Hansen said.
Hansen went onto say that the Cornett family has suffered enough since the shooting, and he did not think it was right to put them through anymore unnecessary strife.
“If a death penalty decision is overturned for any reason, which they frequently are, that kind of takes away from the family. It’s as if something is taken away. I have the discretion to take it to the death penalty or not, but it’s also my discretion to determine how much more emotional turmoil I need to put this family through,” Hansen said.
Hansen said in court on Thursday that the Commonwealth did not want to put the Cornett family through any more grief, especially not a possible 15-20 year appeals process with the death penalty.
“This decision is made with the fact that this family has already been through enough,” he said. “They’ve had enough taken away from them.”
Amelia Holliday can be reached at 606-436-5771, or on Twitter @HazardHerald.