James Simons pleads guilty to reduced charges

He is sentenced to 25 years, will testify against third man charged in murder

By Kristina Belcher, Published:

The second day of trial for James Simons — one of the defendants charged with murder in the death of a man whose body was dumped on the side of Interstate 64 — ended early after he pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

Simons, 37, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and tampering with physical evidence.

He was immediately sentenced in accordance to the plea agreement to a total of 25 years in prison. He will have to serve 85 percent of that sentence — or 17 years — before being eligible for parole.

Simons, Joshua Hammond, 33, and David Bruce II, 46, allegedly planned to rob 30-year-old Charles Monroe after buying prescription drugs from him May 5, 2012 in the Walmart parking lot on Leonardwood Drive.

They allegedly beat 

and strangled Monroe to death. His body was found May 6, 2012 dumped on the side of Interstate 64.

Bruce pleaded guilty in June to the amended charges of criminal facilitation to murder, second-degree robbery, second-degree assault and tampering with physical evidence.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

As a part of both Simons’ and Bruce’s plea agreements, they will testify against Hammond in trial, which is set for May.

Following Tuesday’s sentencing, one of Monroe’s brothers had to be led from the courtroom by family members as he yelled obscenities at Simons.

“Have fun, have fun, bastard,” the man yelled. “See you in 17 years.”

“It’s not what we really wanted,” said Monroe’s sister, Tammy Cook, about the guilty plea.

Cook said she and the rest of Monroe’s siblings took a vote before giving their blessing for Simons’ plea agreement.

She said they are ultimately happy two of her brother’s alleged killers are off the street. They were unhappy with the jury selection and felt moving forward in the trial was too risky.

“We are just waiting for May now,” Cook said of Hammond’s trial.

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  • The Sheriff should have to publicly explain the obvious contradictions between his counter narrative (aka cover story) of what happened to Charles Monroe that fateful Saturday night in Walmart's parking lot and the actual time line of events.  The good Sheriff and Prosecutor Cleveland claim that this was just a routine in case of "a drug deal gone bad", where this drug dealer was killed by 3 men who planned to rob him of his money and drugs and then through excellent police work the Sheriff was able to apprehend the 3 fugitives who were out of town by Sunday morning.

    Neither the Sheriff's Office nor the Prosecutor adequately explained how they were able to track down these guys and arrest them in less than 12 hours without the benefit of any evidence that a crime had even been committed. Instead they issued the following ambiguous statement: “The investigation proceeded very quickly, and we are very fortunate in the breaks that happened in the case that centered on the three individuals,” Cleveland said about the ongoing investigation. Statements were taken and indicated their participation in these offenses.” All three men entered a not guilty plea, so there were no admissions. What “statements were taken” and who made them?

    The time line dictates that the Sheriff apparently made a deal with Mr. Monroe who had been previously arrested (his mug mug shot printed in SJ) for some charge, and then used it as leverage to coerce him to become a confidential informant (CI). Even though the authorities have never admitted that Monroe was a CI, it is an elementary deduction to figure out that he was one for the Sheriff's Office. If Monroe wasn't a CI in the suspect's vehicle to conduct a sting operation when he was killed, then how did the Sheriff's Office even know that the suspects had committed a crime?  If they didn't know that they had committed a crime, then why did the Sheriff's Office race off en masse to Owen Co. that night in hot pursuit to arrest them? The Sheriff did not have any physical evidence until the next morning when they finally went to where Monroe had been dumped beside I-64.

    The critical thing is that the time line dictates that Charles was indeed coerced into becoming a CI and that as one he was sent in to do this very dangerous and ultimately lethal drug sting in which he was killed.  The Sheriff did not take the necessary precautions to protect Charles and thus was negligent, and then the Sheriff and Prosecutor lied about it.  The time line does not lie although some men do.  

  • Loggin nobody hasn't ever dicredited your cliams which is very plausible. What did you expect the sheriff to say to the family when asked. If in fact Charles was a C.I. then they have a reason to be in full CYOA mode. This sheriff has claimed that he didn't know his deputy was corrupt also when it was common knowledge for at least two years before he got caught stealing out of the sheriffs office.

    I have thought since day one on this that former rouge deputy Matt Brown set this deal up. He is from and lives in Owen County and knew these homeboys like he knew a lot of dealers and knew they were big players with BIG MONEY that Matt wanted. These homeboys enjoyed a certain level of protection afforded by being close relatives of powerful elected officials in their home county and were able to play the scene without much worry. After all, who was gonna bother them. I have always thought Matt used narcotic supplies from the sheriffs office to set this deal up to take the homeboys money and then shew them back to Owen county in a hush hush fashion as a courtesy to a fellow law enforcement family.

    Little did Matt know that these homeboys had other plans that night and there was no money for the taking. How can a dispatcher miss the fact that a 911 caller said a BODY WAS BEING DUMPED and why did they rush to find the homeboys instead of checking on the 911 call. Was Matt in a fit to get ahold of the money that he wanted? Regardless if we are wrong, the sheriffs office blew this 911 call bigtime and can still be responsible for Charles death.

    Another interesting thing is it appears that the prosecutor told the family that the jury probably wouldn't find guilt (with mountains of evidence) so go ahead and try to at least get a little justice or risk no justice at all. Then he tells the defense that the jury will find his guilt (with that mountain of evidence) if he takes the trial full course and that if he doesn't take the plea deal then the prosecutor will make sure that he never sees daylight again. The defense had to believe that they would be found guilty to accept a full 17 years in a plea. So everybody bit the bait and kept another murderer silent. Hammonds is merely waiting for the best deal and will get a very sweet one the longer he waits. He knows that and will most likely get the least amount of time to serve and nobody will know the truth. All we know now is they are lies being told and this one former deputy is still being covered for.

    I would hope the family doesn't buy another plea deal and demand a full trial. At this point it would be better to get two out of three and possibly Millions of dollars just to hear the truth once and for all. If our prosecutor does a half of a job then he wouldn't have any problem getting a conviction so why not risk it. But the family really doesn't have the ultimate sayso. They can plea it down without their blessing and get this dog and pony show over with.

  • Legion: Your astute ability to get right to the clear and concise pertinent issues in a story must be why you work at the State Journal.

    Thanks for the compliment. :o)

  • steve_fry, March 19, 2014 7:15PM

    "Apparently, Legion now = Loggin"

    S_F, your astute ability to get right to the clear and concise pertinent issues in a story must be why you work at the State Journal!

  • Kristina, this is such a poor job of reporting on the trial that went on for a whole day while several key witnesses testified.  Did you even bother to go to the trial?  Apparently not!  I blame the Editor too for letting this poor excuse for reporting slide...but it is par for the course.  What is the point of even writing this drivel?  It is all just packaged messenging from the Sheriff and Prosecutor anyway!  

    At the trial the witnesses seemed to have been called not so much to prove the guilt of Simon, but to appease the family and answer some of the less pertinent questions that they had about why the Sheriff left the body out there on the on-ramp of I-64 all night.  This testimony seems to be just filling outsome of the gaps of the cover story that the Sheriff was just responding to the murder of Charles Monroe in a routine manner by racing off to Owenton that night to arrest the suspects. In fact, the timing of the guilty plea is really strange...why did Simon and his lawyer wait until these non-essential witnesses had testified on the first day before copping the plea? Was the plea aggreement even offered before the end of the first day? Surely, David Bruce's eyewitness testimony would have been much more damaging than what was presented.  Yeah, this appears to be just filling in of the cover story to appease the family. 

    The elephant in the room remains: If Charles had not have been a CI for the Sheriff, then they would not have even known that a crime had been committed. The timeline does not lie.

    Some of the key things brought up in the trial were:

    1) - On Saturday night the Monroe family friend (that didn't want his name revealed) was heading to work in Lex. on the I-64 on-ramp at the US 127 interchange when he saw what he believed to be a body pulled from a vehicle and dumped. He called 911 and was able to give them the licence number of the truck. 

    2) - The dispatcher who took the call appeared in court and said that the reason that the Sheriff did not know to go look at the ramp at what looked like a body was because they made an error in what was dispatched.  Now the really bizzare part was what was all that dispatched out to law enforcement was that "a suspicious vehicle" was stopped on the on-ramp and they failed to even mention the body!  Really!!  The family friend's 911 call was taped and in it he clearly stated that "what looked like a body" had been dumped!  But the dispatcher testified that their radio dispatch was only that a "suspicious vehicle" was on the side of the on-ramp.  Nothing to see here folks, move along!

    As for this dispatcher testimony, it seems like it is part of the Sheriff's counter narrative aka cover story, too.  I cannot imagine that a dispatcher failed to mention the main reason for the 911 call in the first place...that "what looked like a body" had been pulled out of a vehicle and dumped. That should have sent up blarring red flags all over! That type of report USUALLY illicits an All-Points Bulletin, or a radio message sent to all of a police force within an area! That dispatcher should have been fired if that were true!  What if Charles had been seriously injured but was still alive at the time that he was dumped and actually died later that night on the ramp?

    But really whether the dispatcher blew that part of the 911 call or not is irrelevant to the key issue here since all of the Sheriff's horses and all of his men raced off to Owenton to arrest these guys because they already knew what happened and by whom without the report. The Sheriff did not have any physical evidence that a murder had been committed until the next day when all were in custody.

    3) - The evidence that the Sheriff reportedly found that had been discarded at the I-64/KY River bridge was Charles's clothes, a set of brass knuckles that a witness said that he gave Josh Hammond, and a billy club from Owen County Sheriff that they used to beat Monroe. He was hit by 2 of the men while the third man held his arms back and let them beat him then eventually strangled him.  There was no mention of a wire.  

    I had speculated that Charles Monroe could have been wearing a wire if in fact he was a CI for the Sheriff, but that is not critical (although I would bet that he was).  Nobody but Charles, the 3 hoodlums and the Sheriff and Prosecutor knows for sure.  Charles can't tell us, the 3 hoodlums are not going to say if that is why they killed him and the authorities are never going to bring it up or admit to it. For the hoodlums to have found a wire or some other device if they searched him would explain a lot of why they freaked out and felt like they had to kill him. Whatever it was, for some reason they thought that that was their only way out.

    Whether or not they intended to kill him all along or in a panic as the result of finding out they were in a sting is also irrelevant, as they murdered him in that vehicle.  The stuff about the brass knuckles is irrelevant too, and that does not mean they planned on killing him...but whether they planned to or not, they did.

    The main issue is whether or not Charles was a CI and that he was killed during a drug sting operation.  The time line strongly suggests that that is the case.  

    I contend that the main questions were not answered by this abbreviated portion of a trial.  The main question is:

    If Charles Monroe wasn't a CI in the suspect's vehicle to conduct a sting operation when he was killed, then how did the Sheriff's Office even know that the suspects had committed a crime?  

    and 

    If the Sheriff didn't know that they had committed a crime, then why did the Sheriff's Office race off en masse to Owen Co. that night in hot pursuit to arrest them? The Sheriff did not have any physical evidence until the next morning, and he was quoted saying that he didn't even get the 911 call until Monday morning.
     
    The critical thing is that the time line indicates that Charles was indeed coerced into becoming a CI and that as one he was sent in to do this very dangerous and ultimately lethal drug sting in which he was killed.  The Sheriff did not take the necessary precautions to protect Charles and thus was negligent, and then the Sheriff and Prosecutor lied about it.  The time line does not lie.

    Two of the suspects have been given sweetheart plea deals to much lesser charges other than murder.  If there ever was a case that clearly deserves murder charges it is this one.  Instead, in their eagerness to keep this case for going to trial, the authorities are offering first degree manslaughter and criminal facilitation to murder.

    Manslaughter in the first degree.
    (1) A person is guilty of manslaughter in the first degree when: 
    (a) With intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes
    the death of such person or of a third person; or 
    (b) With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of
    such person or of a third person under circumstances which do not
    constitute murder because he acts under the influence of extreme
    emotional disturbance, as defined in subsection (1)(a) of KRS 507.020. 
    (2) Manslaughter in the first degree is a Class B felony. 

     

     

    My bet is that it will be a short time before Hammond is given a similar deal, thus ending any chance that any testimony will reveal that Charles was a CI.  The Monroe family asked the Sheriff directly if Charles was a Confidential Informant and he said "NO".

    This is wrong on so many fronts!

  • Apparently, Legion now = Loggin

  • Legion: What is the point of reading articles like this one?

    Thanks for reading (and commenting on) articles just like this one. :o)

     

  • “We are just waiting for May now,” Cook said of Hammond’s trial.

    Two down and silent, one to go.  I will bet a month's pay that they give the 3rd a sweetheart deal and Hammonds pleas out too.

    Bodeen, you know the Monroes...can't you tell them what is going on?  

    Covering the "crime beat" is Kristina Belcher's job, but what is the point of reading articles like this one?  It's just all packaged messaging from the Sheriff and Prosecutor Cleveland's office anyway...copied off of the police blotter.  The State Journal prints their counter narrative (aka cover story) verbatim, no questions asked regardless of how illogical it is...and this one doesn't make a lick of sense.  The timeline dictates that Charles Monroe was a CI for the Sheriff and that he was in that car to do a drug sting when they apparently found out that he was wired and killed him.  Anyone who cannot see that is a Sheriff's Office cheerelader not an investigative journalist! 

  • If I was on that jury and have this said about me in the state journal, I would be upset. This early or shall I say, ONE DAY into the trial, the prosecutor knows enough about the jury to know which way they will go? He is the one that helps pick them? I don't buy it either legion and thinks that he doesn't want it go on for reasons that you stated. Hammonds will be given a plea deal also so we will never know the full story. At the end of the day though, we are not fools enough to believe the NO COMMENT didn't mean anything.

  • What the heck does this crap mean..."unhappy with the jury selection and felt that a trial was too risky"? 

  • IN the earlier case of David Bruce's plea the story went like this:

    "Some of the family members were visibly upset and stifled tears as they sat with their heads bowed. They told The State Journal they aren’t happy with the plea agreement. “No, we don’t want a plea bargain because my brother’s life wasn’t bargained for at all,” Monroe’s brother, Larry told the State Journal last year.

    But in exchange for a guilty plea, Cleveland recommended 20 years in prison and opposed probation for Bruce, who said he would cooperate in the continuing investigation and prosecution of the case.

    “Mr. Bruce was, the evidence would indicate, the least involved in this offense of the three defendants,” Cleveland told The State Journal after court. Bruce provided the co-defendants the means or opportunity to commit the murder of Monroe, according to the plea agreement.

    “Obtaining his testimony against the other two would be very beneficial … I think it’s a very good plea arrangement,” Cleveland said.

    Larry Monroe said he disagreed, mentioning a man who tried to steal a generator from a truck in the Walmart parking lot in April 2012 was sentenced Friday to 20 years incarceration.

    “Man steals a generator, gets 20 years in prison,” he said, his voice distraught. “This (man) murders my brother, gets 20 years in prison. What kind of court is this place? I just don’t understand that.”

    But Cleveland said the same sentence would have likely come from a trial. “He received a sentence that I think he would have gotten at trial, 20 years, for offenses I think the jury would have found him guilty of at trial,” he said. “We, in turn, got assistance in prosecuting the other defendants and avoid a trial in respect to him.”"

     

    So, let's get this straight...the Prosecutor Cleveland cut a deal with the man who he says had the least to do with the murder of their apparent confidential informant, Charles Monroe, and in exchange for turning state's evidence, gives him 20 years.  And then you have Simons who must have had a major role in the brutal murder by strangulation and they have Bruce to testify against him and somehow the Prosecutor was "unhappy with the jury selection and felt that a trial was too risky", so they cut a deal which will allow Simons to be eligible for parole in 17 years.

    This doesn't make a lick of sense...and the reason it doesn't is because the Sheriff and Prosecutor are in CYOA mode and here is why:

    The reason that the Sheriff and Prosecutor may not want this to go to trial or even to discuss it further could be because of a similar cases like this one:

     

    "Florida Will Pay $2.6 Million for Wrongful Death of 23-Year-Old Informant Murdered During a Sting  January 9, 2012  

    Tallahassee, Florida, city commissioners Friday voted to approve a $2.6 million settlement in the wrongful death suit of a young woman killed in a drug sting when she agreed to be a confidential informant for police after being busted on marijuana and ecstasy charges. The payout comes even as a similar killing is shaking the Detroit area. 

     

    Rachel Hoffman, 23, a recent Florida State University graduate, inhabited student drug circles, but after she was busted and agreed to become a snitch in 2008, Tallahassee police sent her out into an entirely different world. They set up a "buy-bust" sting, giving Hoffman $13,000 in marked bills to buy ecstasy, cocaine, and a gun. Instead of completing the transaction, the two men targeted shot and killed her, stole the money, her credit cards, and her car, and left her body in a ditch. The killers were later caught and are now serving life sentences."

     

    The city of Tallahassee's settlement isn't the only fallout from Hoffman's killing. After her death, her parents lobbied for, and the Florida legislature passed, "Rachel's Law" which mandated reforms to protect informants. Under that law, police who work with informants are also required to get special training, must allow them to talk with an attorney before agreeing to anything, and cannot promise them reduced sentences if they cooperate. The police organizations fought this passage tooth and nail, and ended up significantly weakening the final law. 

     

  • Bodeen, was it the "defense attorney's job of lying" that got the sweetheart sentencing deal, or was it the Prosecutor's desire to avoid an open trial where it could be disclosed that Charles Monroe was only in that car with those guys as an apparent confidential informant to do a drug sting operation for the Sheriff's Office?  I am betting on the latter.  

    Bruce pleaded guilty in June to the amended charges of criminal facilitation to murder because the Prosecutor said that he was the least involved and “provided the co-defendants the means or opportunity to commit the murder of Monroe”? Wouldn't those who coerced Monroe into the murderer's car that night to make a drug deal also have “provided the co-defendants the means or opportunity to commit the murder of Monroe”? What does that say about the Sheriff's or the Prosecutor's culpability? Why should the police be able to do the same thing and not be required to even explain what happened much less be held accountable?

    The question today is who convinced the Charles Monroe's family to give their blessings for Simon's plea agreement...the defense attorney?  Hardly!  It was the prosecutors that told them that the jury selection was suspect and that it was too risky to take it to trial!  Why would they do that?  Somebody needs to talk to the family as they think that they Prosecutor and Sheriff are on their side!  They don't understand that they timeline dictates that Charles was in that car selling drugs for the Sheriff and that he would still be alive today if it were not for that! 

  • Cook said "They were unhappy with the jury selection and felt that a trial was too risky"

    My first comment was before the plea deal was made. While 17 years is no small amount by no means, it isn't a great price to pay for killing a young man, a father in cold blood. I really don't know what to make of Cooks comment other than to say that they had a reason to believe that the prosecutor wouldn't be able to sway the jury with the overwhelming proof of Simons guilt. Why is that? Why even offer a plea at this stage? If it is to save time then it is wrong. I do not think our judicial system was set up to give willy nilly plea bargains to save time.

    Legion, you just may be right. I don't think that we will ever know if this sheriff set Mr. Monroe up in a sting. Mark it down now, They will eventually offer Mr. Hammond a plea that he cannot refuse and keep him silent also. It is a shame that this family was forced to accept what they really didn't want just to get something for fear of nothing. One day it could very well be one of our families in their shoes and I would hate to have to do what they did and nobody should be compelled to accept a light sentence for fear of none at all

  • Holland described Simons — who he calls “Ronnie” — as a drug addict with a severe intellectual impairment, making him easily manipulated and easily taken advantage of.

    But yet smart enough to know to get the helloutOFdodge after committing this heinous crime. I hope the jury sees through the defense attorneys job of lying to get the lenient sentence as possible. There really is only one punishment that is deserving of all three of these monsters who values a painpill over a humans life but they couldn't have it any better. They come from well known families and they are in front of one of our judge and prosecutors who tends to either give generous plea bargains or punishments that amounts to a slap on the hands for the dangerous people. I feel awful for this family and know the pain of losing a sibling at such a young age.. The Monroes are good people, I went to school with several of them and if any family deserves justice than this one does. I hope our jury, judge and prosecutor realizes that!