A Frankfort man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and assault charges in the 2019 shooting death of Xavier Cochrum earlier this year will spend at least the next two years behind bars after being denied by the Kentucky Parole Board on Tuesday.
In late March, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd sentenced 21-year-old Elijah Amburgey to 10 years, in accordance with the Commonwealth’s recommendation, after he pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault, both Class C felonies.
Amburgey, who claimed responsibility for Cochrum’s death via a plea deal with amended charges in January, received a 10-year sentence on the manslaughter charge and a five-year sentence on the assault charge. Those will run concurrently for a total of 10 years.
He was originally charged with murder, a capital offense and Class A felony; first-degree assault, a Class B felony; and first-degree wanton endangerment, a Class D felony. The wanton endangerment charge was dismissed per the plea agreement.
According to court documents, Amburgey, a high school senior at the time of the crime, shot Cochrum, wounded Ezavion Peyton, 19, and fired toward Patrick Greenlee on the night of Sept. 30, 2019, at Amburgey’s grandmother’s residence in Indian Hills.
His grandmother, who made the initial 911 call, reported that someone tried to enter her Menominee Trail home through a back door and that her grandson shot them in his bedroom. She told dispatch that two people were possibly hurt and another was laying in the driveway.
Amburgey, Peyton and Greenlee — the three survivors — gave police conflicting accounts of what happened.
Greenlee, who said the incident centered around a drug deal gone wrong, told officers that he received a text message from Cochrum earlier that evening asking where he could score marijuana. Greenlee’s testimony indicates that he arranged the transaction with Amburgey.
Peyton, who sustained a gunshot wound to his right arm and was found by first responders in the backyard of the Indian Hills home, told law enforcement that he was selling the drugs and accused Amburgey of shorting him on the transaction. He said Amburgey told them to leave and pulled a handgun out from underneath a coffee table and started shooting.
Amburgey told a different story. He said Cochrum attempted to pay for the marijuana using counterfeit money and when he told the three to leave Peyton struck him. Court documents indicate that Amburgey fired the gun “not in self-protection but because they had disrespected and disobeyed him.”
An autopsy report concluded that Cochrum was shot three times — once in the left side of his chest and twice in the left side of his back — as he ran away. First responders found him lying facedown in the driveway.
Both Cochrum and Peyton were transported to Frankfort Regional Medical Center. Peyton was treated and released. Cochrum was pronounced dead and Greenlee escaped injury.
After entering his guilty plea, Amburgey asked Shepherd to consider both a motion for home incarceration pending sentencing and a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The judge denied both requests.
Brad Gordon, a public defender who formerly represented Amburgey, told the court in February that the only reason his client accepted the plea deal was because his release pending sentencing had been negotiated.
“Let me stop you,” Shepherd said. “It was not in the paperwork and nobody has the authority to commit to anybody what the court is going to do on a motion like that.
“I’m not a potted plant. I have the authority to make an independent judgment on this matter and that’s what I’m going to do,” the judge added.
Gordon argued that his client would live with his grandmother — a former probation and parole officer — “who is more than willing to let Mr. Amburgery go back to her house.”
In his order, Shepherd said that factor did not alleviate the court’s concerns.
“The defendant’s grandmother allowed him to live essentially unsupervised in a basement apartment and she also allowed him to have access to a firearm as an impulsive teenager, with no training supervision or safety measures taken to secure the weapon and guard against its illegal use,” the judge wrote.
In an order denying Amburgey’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea, Shepherd noted that there is no valid basis for him to approve the defendant’s request.
“The defendant has received the benefit of the bargain negotiated in the plea agreement, through the amendment of the charges from murder and assault in the first degree to manslaughter in the second degree and assault in the second degree,” Shepherd wrote. “The Court’s decision on whether to release the defendant from custody pending sentencing is simply not relevant to validity of the plea agreement and it does not provide any basis to set aside the guilty plea.”
The judge also pointed out that allowing Amburgey to withdraw his guilty plea “would impair the administration of justice, cause additional delay in the final adjudication of the case and impose burdens on the court system.”
“In addition, it would impose additional burdens on the victims and their families,” Shepherd wrote.
“He is no longer entitled to the presumption of innocence. He pleaded guilty to a crime involving the use of a firearm and the death of a young person and a serious injury to another young person in this community.”
In March, Amburgey’s most recent defense attorney, Jason Hart, argued for probation and noted that his client’s criminal risk level was low and that he had no prior juvenile or adult criminal record prior to the current case.
“In the court’s judgment because of the nature of the offense here, you are not eligible for probation,” Shepherd countered. “Frankly, because of the death of another human being in this instance granting probation would depreciate the crime.”