Shane Ragland, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the shooting death of University of Kentucky football player Trent DiGiuro, is legally liable in the death, a judge ruled Monday.
The ruling, issued in Fayette County Circuit Court, means DiGiuro's family is entitled to seek compensation from Ragland, who pleaded guilty in the football player's death.
The order did not say how much Ragland owes the DiGiuro family. Lawyers for both sides said that figure would likely be determined by a jury.
"With (Ragland's) plea, we didn't have to prove he was the murderer anymore," said the DiGiuro family's lawyer, Thomas Conway of Louisville.
Besides seeking compensatory damages, the DiGiuro family will seek punitive damages to punish Ragland for the crime, Conway said.
"I can't think of a more hideous crime, killing a young man with a varmint rifle with a scope," Conway said.
Conway said he will ask for a trial to be scheduled for this summer.
Ragland's lawyer, Steve Romines of Louisville, said Ragland probably won't bother defending himself at the trial, so the defendant's chair will likely be empty. DiGiuro's life obviously had value, and Ragland is not going to argue that it wasn't worth anything, Romines said, in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Romines said Ragland cannot appeal the ruling until after a trial is held to determine damages. Ragland will consider his options then, Romines said.
Ragland was accused of targeting DiGiuro in revenge for keeping him out of a fraternity. He was convicted of murder in 2002 and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but he won a new trial after the state Supreme Court agreed that the prosecutor had made an inappropriate comment during trial and used inadmissible evidence concerning a bullet.
Ragland would have faced a retrial but pleaded guilty to manslaughter instead.
The case remained unsolved for six years, until police arrested Ragland, the son of a well-connected Frankfort businessman.
The DiGiuro family sued Ragland for wrongful death after his 2002 conviction. The family has acknowledged that the lawsuit is largely symbolic because Ragland has few assets to his name.
But it could prevent Ragland's father, Jerry, from passing on his inheritance to him.
"Hopefully we'll get a big verdict," Conway said to the Herald-Leader. "As long as you renew it every 15 years, he'll never be able to own anything or have any possessions. That is the least the DiGiuros are entitled to."