HAZARD – Sarah Melton, the Perry County woman who was found mentally ill but also guilty of reckless homicide during a jury trial in June, was sentenced to six years in prison during a court appearance Thursday morning.
Melton, 43, of Brownsfork, had originally stood trial on charges of murder and attempted murder for the shooting death of Cindy Caudill, as well as the shooting of Melton’s brother, Bill Couch, who survived the incident in the Brownsfork community in June 2011 when Melton used a shotgun to shoot the couple as they rode away from the scene on an ATV.
Though Melton originally faced potential life imprisonment, the jury greatly reduced the charges against her, as well as the potential sentence, when they instead found her guilty of assault under extreme emotional disturbance and reckless homicide, the latter a Class D felony that carries a maximum of five years in prison. The assault charge is also a Class D felony, though the jury recommended the minimum of one year to serve.
Melton was scheduled for sentencing on July 26, but a legal question arose that delayed the hearing until this week. Circuit Judge William Engle noted then that the law coupled with a precedent set in a previous case made it unclear as to whether or not Melton should be found competent at the time of sentencing due to the fact that the jury found her mentally ill.
While in court on Thursday, defense attorney Gerald Teaster said he interpreted the previous case as one in which the defense attorney was unsure of the defendant’s competency, and in Melton’s case he had no such doubts.
“I have no doubts that Ms. Melton is competent to understand the proceedings,” he said.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Reed agreed, and Engle proceeded with the hearing, sentencing Melton to five years on one count of reckless homicide, and one year on assault under extreme emotional disturbance. The sentences were combined for a total of six years to serve, and Melton was remanded to the custody of the Department of Corrections to begin serving her sentence.
Melton will receive credit for the time she has already served in jail, and will also be eligible for parole after serving 20 percent of her sentence, well before her total of six years is complete.
In the days following the trial, Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Reed, who had sought a murder conviction, made a short statement to the Herald in which she expressed shock at the verdict and the conviction on less serious charges.
“I am surprised at the little value that was placed on an innocent human life,” she said.
Defense attorney Gerald Teaster remarked that he wasn’t surprised by the verdict, and believed the jury responded to Melton’s testimony on the stand, which detailed past abuses and what she said was the fear she had of her brother.
“I think it (the verdict) vindicated her testimony,” Teaster said. “She told the truth on the witness stand and the jury responded to her truth. We’re pretty gratified and happy about the verdict.”
Teaster added that he preferred a full acquittal, but of the charges the jury could have convicted Melton on, these were the least serious.
“I believe that was a good decision by the jury,” he said.