Monday, April 9, 2007

Harrison Yonts sentencing

Harrison Yonts was sentenced this morning by Circuit Court Judge Dennis Foust to the originally recommended sentences of 20 years for wanton murder and one year for tampering with evidence, to be served concurrently. The defense motioned for a new trial and was denied that motion by Faust. The defense also moved to have the charge reduced at the discretion of the judge to manslaughter, to which Yonts would plead to receive a sentence of 10 years, parole-eligible after two. This motion was also denied.

The defense will appeal and has motioned to Foust for Yonts to be out on bail until appeal, which Foust deferred and will rule on in writing later in the week.

Check Friday's edition of The Murray State News for full details from the sentencing.


Friday, March 16, 2007


The University will begin a shuttle service when students return from spring break. The shuttle will be every Saturday beginning March 31 and ending May 5 and will be from 3 to 6 p.m. It will run a loop from Regents College to Clark College, to the 500 block of College Courts, to WalMart and then to Kroger.

Is this something you all will use? Do you think it is a good idea? What could make it better?


Monday, February 19, 2007

Tuition Increase

President Randy Dunn announced, in a tuition forum Friday, that he would propose to the Board of Regents an 8.4 percent tuition increase for next year. Currently, students pay $4,998 per year. The increase would mean students would pay $5,418 a year.

University officials also announced an increase in Residential College rates. Students may pay $1,518 for a double room or $2,429 for a private room. However, students who plan to live in the new Clark Residential College can expect to pay $500 more than students in other Colleges. The rates to live in Clark could be about $2,018 for a double room or $3,229 for a private room. Those living in Clark College should expect an increase because of the new facility and its features. The increase will also help pay the bonds the University used to build the College.

Dunn plans to present the recommended increases to the Board of Regents this Friday.

What are your thoughts on tuition and room and board increases? Will the extra fee to live in Clark change your living situation in the Residential Colleges? What do you think the University should do (if anything) to aid students with the cost?


Thursday, February 1, 2007


Harrison Yonts was found guilty on all charges. Check out The News tomorrow on newsstands across campus for all the details.

The Jury is Out

The wanton murder trial of Harrison Yonts was handed over to the jury today at approximately 12:50 p.m. Closing arguments began this morning at 10:25, with Dennis Null of the defense arguing first. Similar themes that have been present throughout the defense's questioning were mentioned in the closing statement, and particular emphasis was again placed on the charge of tampering with evidence. For the first time the defense ventured an explanation for the glass shards found on Yonts's pants and toboggan, saying that the person who drove his car came into his room to return the keys, getting glass shards on his pants. Arguments were also made that had Yonts been driving his clothing would've been covered in a fine glass dust; it was not. Additionally, the defense said that had he been driving, his shirt and the bathroom where his shirt was left would've been littered with glass as the entryway had been. The defense continued its attack on the Murray Police Department and particularly lead detective Kendra Smith for failure to conduct a thorough investigation, even going as far as to suggest that jurors should make a note on their verdict forms indicating their desire to see an investigation continue on this case.

After more than an hour and a half of arguments from the defense, the court recessed briefly before the state began its closing arguments. Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Jim Harris told that jurors that he did not intend to interpret the information they had been presented throughout the trial, but that he was confident the facts would speak for themselves. He reminded the jury of key pieces of information regarding the events of Nov. 10, 2005 on the part of both Shaheen and Yonts, and refuted several arguments made by the defense, including the proposal that Shaheen had left her apartment after returning home from the lab - a point supported by the backpack she was wearing when she left the Hart College Computer lab that was found on the scene. The backpack was filled with study-related items. Harris implored the jury to return a guilty verdict. "If not now, when?" Harris said. "If not us, who?"

After the closing arguments ceased, two jurors were dismissed in accordance with an earlier decision to have two alternate jurors watch the proceedings. The jury is now in deliberation, and The Murray State News will be there for the announcement of a verdict. Check back with The News Blogs and, and of course with our Friday edition.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Defense Rests: Wednesday, January 31

Immediately following the lunch recess the prosecution announced it would rest, and the defense’s inaugural witness was Phillip McClean, coroner for Graves County. McClean testified about what his typical course of action would be in a situation similar to the accident of Nov. 11, 2005.

McClean went through his entire process, from logging the time he arrived at the scene and releasing the EMS crew to covering the body with a sheet and storing it in a body bag. The most notable parts of his testimony, however, were when he discussed his measurements of outside air and body temperatures. He said he would then use the body temperature to estimate the time of death at the scene of the crime, and additionally check for signs of rigor mortis. “Time of death, to me it’s very important ... in any situation involving foul play,” McClean told the defense counselors.

On cross examination Harris asked McClean if he was familiar with Amy Burrows Beckham (see testimony from the afternoon of day one). McClean testified that he does know her and does trust her opinion, but went on to say that the opinions and analysis of professionals like Burrows Beckham can only be as reliable as the samples or information they are given from local coroners. On re-direct, McClean testified that on several occasions he has contacted the state medical examiners’ office to request assistance with a body.

The defense next called Rep. Brent Yonts, father of defendant Harrison Yonts. Prior to his entry into the courtroom, however, a letter was stipulated into the proceedings from Joseph Cohen, a doctor of forensic pathology. Both defense and prosecution agreed that the letter and its contained facts and opinions would be entered into the record as though Cohen had been present at the trial. The primary purpose of Cohen’s opinion for the defense was to further establish that Shaheen’s time of death cannot be pinned down to the approximate 2:30 a.m. time suggested by the state. Cohen’s opinion was that it is just as likely that she died in the last couple of hours of the time window as the first couple of hours.

Brent Yonts then took the stand, testifying first on biographical information and his work in the state of Kentucky’s house of representatives. Rep. Yonts testified that his son had held many jobs throughout his teen years, including an internship related to his academic major during a recent summer. He also testified that he’d never known his son to back his car into the driveway, and that he had not communicated with his son at all on Nov. 10 or Nov. 11, 2005, until he was in Murray following the notification that his son had been detained. He said his son had no previous DUI charges. There was no cross examination.

Next to the stand was Janice Yonts, mother of Harrison Yonts and wife of Rep. Brent Yonts. Janice Yonts testified that she also did not receive any communication from her son during the period in question, and that his previous history would dictate that if he were in trouble he would call her right away. On cross examination, Janice Yonts testified that though he did call her when he was in trouble, he had never called her while drunk.

Grant Richerson was called to the stand, but the court went into a 15-minute recess and, following the break, Richerson was dismissed and never approached the stand. Instead the defense called Skylar Pharris, whose name had been brought up previously in connection with descriptions of what Yonts was wearing the night of Nov. 10, 2005. Pharris is also a brother of Lambda Chi, and said he saw Yonts the night of the party wearing a white polo shirt with orange stripes. The defense asked Farris to look at a video tape viewed by the court Tuesday of the interior of Yonts’s apartment. The video was viewed earlier in the morning, as well, during the testimony of Detective Kendra Smith. Pharris positively identified the shirt on the toilet seat in Yonts’s bathroom as the shirt he was wearing the night before at the party. During cross examination, Pharris testified that Yonts had also been wearing jeans and a toboggan, though he was unsure if it was gray and later retracted the term “toboggan” in preference of “beanie.” He could not recall whether Yonts was wearing a fleece

Next in the defense’s line-up was Brent Johnson, one of Yonts’s roommates at the time of the accident. Johnson is a senior brother of Lambda Chi, and said he was not at the apartment the night of Nov. 10, 2005, but that his vehicle had been in the driveway. He clarified that he had been present at the apartment until 10 p.m. that night but had left to spend the night elsewhere. Defense counsel questioned him about Yonts’s tendency to back in his vehicle, and he testified that he had never known Yonts to do this.

Johnson had been with Yonts Nov. 10, 2005, at Nick’s Family Sports Pub prior to Yonts’s attendance at the Lambda Chi party. Johnson said Yonts had been wearing a white polo shirt with orange stripes and fleece coat while at Nick’s. Johnson also viewed the video and positively identified the shirt. Johnson said the only time he had spoken with the Murray Police Department throughout the investigation was the morning of Nov. 11, when he returned home. Johnson also told the jury about a corkboard that hung behind the door of he and his roommates’ apartment on which Yonts always - “100 percent of the time,” he said - hung his keys. The footage from the apartment had shown Yonts’s keys on a table in his bedroom.

Johnson said it would not be out of the question for Yonts to loan his car to someone, and that he observed him to be a neat person whose room was kept organized. There was no cross examination.

Student Lauren Moore, who was next on the stand, was served her subpoena just a short while earlier as she entered the courtroom following the lunch recess. Moore testified that no one from defense, prosecution or the investigation had spoken to her about the case prior to today. Moore confirmed the previous witnesses’ reports on Yonts’s clothing, and positively identified the shirt on the video. She did not see him drive, but was with him most of the night. She also did not see him drop a beer bottle. On cross examination Moore testified that typically glass bottles are not permitted at fraternity parties for safety reasons. She did not see him leave the party, but saw him leave the annex at the fraternity house at approximately 1:50 a.m.

Following Moore’s dismissal from the stand, the defense entered a stipulation of fact into the record regarding a finger printing that was completed on Yonts’s vehicle in September 2006. The results were that one fingerprint was found on the ashtray of the console, and it did not belong to Yonts. No other clear prints were obtained.

Next, the defense called forward a series of three character witnesses, all hailing from Yonts’s hometown of Greeneville, Ky., who have known him for varying lengths of time in education- and church-related capacities. Each witness was asked to testify as to Yonts’s truthful or untruthful nature, and each said he was a truthful person in their experience and had a reputation among others for being truthful. Cross examination was minimal on these witnesses.

Next, Eric Pile and then Kyle Sumner testified to having ridden in a vehicle on the morning of Nov. 11, 2005, that had stopped briefly in front of Yonts’s apartment on Wilshire Drive. Neither one a member of Lambda Chi, Pile attended that Lambda Chi party and Sumner attended the Alpha Gamma Rho party at the AGR house on Hwy. 121, near Bailey Road and the Cambridge 2 subdivision.

Pile and Sumner both rode home that night with Tonya Wirgau. All three lived in Cambridge 2. When Wirgau's SUV pulled into the subdivision, Wirgau and Pile noticed Yonts outside his apartment and Wirgau stopped the car. Pile said he did not remember if there was damage to the vehicle or not. In cross examination, Sumner said the vehicle was pulled into the driveway straight.

Wirgau then came to the stand, and testified that she had been at the Lambda Chi party that night and had witnessed Yonts drop a 40-oz. beer bottle on the floor and pick it up with his bare hands. In a demonstration before the jury, Wirgau said she was standing within two feet directly in front of Yonts at the time of this incident. After he picked it up, she said he walked out the back door of the annex.

Wirgau said she took six people home that night, and described her actions when she first entered the Cambridge 2 subdivision. Wirgau said she saw Yonts on the sidewalk between the house and the road and yelled at him to ask him how he got home. He came to the vehicle and told Wirgau that someone else had driven him home. Wirgau said the car was pulled into the driveway straight at this time. She said she had looked at the clock and noted it was 2:30 a.m. She had to drive to Paris the next morning for work and was concerned about what time she was getting home.

During cross examination, Wirgau testified that her vehicle had actually stopped just past Yonts's car, and that the back of her car was parallel with the back end of his car.

Wirgau left the stand and the court entered a 10-minute recess. When court returned to session, defense counsel Dennis Null announced that the defense would rest at 4:05 p.m. today. It was a move that left many in the courtroom surprised, and seems to indicate that much is left to be coorelated in tomorrow's closing statements.

Closing arguments begin at 10 a.m. tomorrow. Judge Dennis Foust has vetoed his usual policy that dictates when school is not in session, court follows suit - he instructed jurors to come to the courthouse tomorrow despite weather, and if they cannot drive to contact the clerk's office to seek alternate transportation. Following closing arguments the trial will be handed over to the jury for deliberation.

Check back tomorrow for a lunch break blog and the verdict when it becomes available. Also read Friday's edition of The Murray State News for complete coverage of the verdict announcement should it be available by press time.


Lunch Break

Murray Police Department Detective Kendra Smith was back on the stand to continue cross examination this morning as the third day of the Harrison Yonts wanton murder trial began to another packed house of friends and family.

Defense counsel spent a considerable amount of time during their examination of the witness attempting to establish facts about what Yonts was wearing on the evening of the accident, and what happened to these clothing items during the investigation of the scene. This discussion centers around one of the lesser charges Yonts faces - tampering with evidence. Smith testified that among the variables involved in charging Yonts with this crime was a missing shirt, which had been presumed destroyed or otherwise concealed.

The defense played again for the jury footage taken inside Yonts's apartment the morning he was arrested, showing in Yonts's bathroom what appeared to be an orange and white polo shirt spread out on the toilet seat. Yonts had previously told police he'd tried to clean the shirt after cutting his hand at the party. Smith said she could not be certain whether that was the shirt he'd been wearing.

The defense also questioned Smith about certain aspects of the investigation, suggesting that all avenues were not explored in the hours and days following the accident. Defense counsel Dennis Null pressed Smith about her comments on an accident reconstruction illustration that she had said "appeared to be correct" during Grand Jury testimony, but now questioned. The defense also questioned Smith about some of the contents of Shaheen's bag which may have indicated her whereabouts that night, negative contact made with Yonts's roommates and continued discussion on the vehicle's placement in the driveway, particularly its relationship to the charge of tampering with evidence.

The cross examination and subsequent re-directs and re-cross examinations were frought with objections as the defense continued to push for statements that would indicate failure on the part of the Murray Police Department to fully examine the case and attempt to prove Yonts's innocence.

During re-direct examination, Yonts's original statement to police was dissected, in which Yonts was established as coherent and not confused or visibly intoxicated at the time of the interview.

When examination was finished with Smith, Jennifer Block took the stand. Block observed Yonts at Nick's Family Sports Pub the night of Nov. 10, 2005. She said though she did not know him that night, when she heard about the incident the next day she realized that was who she'd seen the night before. She testified that at Nick's, he was behaving as though he were extremely intoxicated. She testified that he was wearing a plaid shirt, a grey fleece and a gray toboggan.

During cross examination, she testified that she did not see Yonts drive, and that she was not interviewed until Nov. 17. She said during her interview with Kendra there were no follow-up questions regarding Yonts's shirt.

Next on the stand was Mallory Cathey, whose phone call was the lone call on Yonts's phone that night. It was a 30-second call, in which Yonts told Cathey he was home. Cathey testified she'd been giving rides to people, and wanted to know if he needed a ride. She testified that he told her he was already home and did not need a ride.

During cross examination, Cathey said she did not hear anything in the background that led her to believe he was not at home. During her other driving that evening Cathey said she did not drive on Coldwater Road or through Five Points.

During re-direct, she testified that she offered Yonts a ride home because she was unaware of how he got to the party and assumed if he were at the party, he'd been drinking.

Sean Knipp was then called. A Murray State student the night of the incident, he was at the house the night of the party and did see Yonts's vehicle pull out of the driveway to leave the party. He said he only saw the rear quarter passenger panel at 2 a.m.

Garret Wheatley then came to the stand. Wheatley manages computer labs for Murray State, and by request he discovered that Shaheen had log-on privileges at Hart College computer lab, and that night her log-off time was 2:00:02 a.m. In cross examination, Wheatley said he employed student workers to monitor the lab. In re-direct, Wheatley testified about Robert Daniels, a housing employee who is responsible for the security cameras. Wheatley said in the event of a power surge, camera times would reset correctly. The jury then viewed the security footage from the Hart College computer lab.

Check back around 7:30 for all the details from the day.