Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 27, 2007

High court upholds Nolan’s life sentence

By KENNETH HART

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Supreme Court has affirmed the guilty verdicts and life sentence handed down against an Ashland man in the brutal 2004 slayings of a Catlettsburg couple.

In a decision handed down last week, the high court found no reason to overturn the judgment against Jonathan R. Nolan.

Nolan was convicted in February of last year in the 2004 murders of Phillip “Bo” Booth and his wife, Shonda. Phillip Booth was shot to death, his wife was stabbed and the couple’s house was then doused with gasoline and set on fire. The couple’s children were in the home during the slayings.

A Boyd Circuit Court jury found Nolan guilty of two counts of murder, complicity to second-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence following a two-week trial.

Following the verdict, attorneys for Nolan and for the commonwealth reached an agreement where Nolan agreed to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 25 years. Jurors could have recommended Nolan receive the death penalty had the issue not been taken out of their hands with the agreement.

Under state law, cases where defendants receive prison sentences of 20 years or longer are automatically appealed to the supreme court, bypassing the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

Nolan’s attorney, Brenda Popplewell of Somerset, presented only one issue to the high court for review: Whether Judge C. David Hagerman erred in not granting a defense motion for a directed verdict on the murder charges.

Upon review, justices determined Hagerman’s denial of Popplewell’s motion was entirely proper.

For the verdict to be overturned on that basis, the high court would have had to have found that, under the evidence presented at trial, it would have been “clearly unreasonable” for the jury to have found Nolan guilty, the ruling states.

“Appellant (Nolan) seems to argue that the contradictory nature of the evidence precluded a finding of guilt, and, therefore, the trial court improperly denied a directed verdict,” justices wrote. “However, it is well-established that, where the evidence is conflicting, the jury must be the final judge of credibility.”

While Nolan presented a much different version of events than the one laid out by special prosecutor David Flatt, forensic evidence in the case “seriously discredited” his story, the ruling states.

“In light of the evidence presented, it was clearly not unreasonable to believe that (Nolan) committed both murders.”

Nolan was one of two men charged in the Booths’ murders. His co-defendant, Patrick Campbell of Ashland, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree manslaughter, along with third-degree arson and evidence-tampering. Campbell, the prosecution’s star witness against Nolan, was sentenced to 20 years.

The murders were the result of a botched robbery. According to Campbell’s testimony, he and Nolan had a plan to rob the Booths when they went to their house under the pretense of buying marijuana from Phillip Booth.

The two left the home after about an hour without initiating their plan, but Nolan decided to go back. Nolan knocked on the door and drew his gun, Phillip Booth answered and the two men fought, crashing into a glass coffee table, which brought Shonda Booth into the living room.

Nolan shot Phillip Booth in the head, then turned and fired a shot at Shonda Booth. Campbell testified that he ushered the couple’s children into a bathroom and barricaded the door, and, that when he returned to the living room, he saw Nolan stabbing Shonda Booth.

After leading the children out of the house, Campbell admitted that he returned and helped Nolan set the structure ablaze. The two men then took their bloodied clothing and the weapons used in the murders to a location along Interstate 64 and set them on fire.

Campbell and Nolan were both arrested the day after the slayings.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.