The case of a Gilbertsville man who is accused of driving impaired and causing a Memorial Day wreck in Marshall County is headed back to a grand jury with stricter charges.
Marshall Commonwealth Attorney Mark Blankenship said Wednesday that 24-year-old Cory Burkeen faces a murder charge, upgraded from first-degree assault, stemming from the Nov. 20 death of 19-year-old Landon Lovett. A meeting between prosecutors and Lovett’s family Wednesday resulted in a decision to let a grand jury decide on whether to replace the assault charge with a murder charge, Blankenship said.
“I got the impression that they just wanted the process to continue,” he said. “They heard all the options and elected to let a grand jury take a look at it.”
The grand jury will meet Jan. 24, and Blankenship said the commonwealth is also considering a persistent felony offender charge because of a previous conviction against Burkeen in a separate case.
Lovett was one of four people in the car that Burkeen’s truck reportedly hit along Ky. 95 on May 28. She was critically injured and remained comatose until she died on Nov. 20. The other teen passengers — Shane McKenty, Lake McGregor and Maggie Adams — also sustained injuries in the collision.
Burkeen was charged with seven offenses — DUI, four counts of wanton endangerment and two counts of first-degree assault — stemming from the wreck after toxicology reports showed he had Valium and Klonopin in his system at the time.
He did not have a prescription for either drug, and he faced a maximum of 10 to 20 years on each of the assault charges.
Blankenship said that if the grand jury returns a murder indictment, Burkeen faces the possibility of life in prison as a maximum sentence.
He said the decision to take the case back to the grand jury was a tough one for the family because of Kentucky’s DUI death laws. As it stands, the state offers wanton murder, a class A felony, as the highest charge a grand jury can return on DUI-related deaths. The next highest is second-degree manslaughter, a class C felony. No class B felony charge exists.
First-degree assault is a class B felony, however, which could potentially result in a longer sentence than the murder charge if the case goes to trial, Blankenship said.
Blankenship said he is pursuing a law change that would create a class B felony charge as a lesser included on DUI-related deaths.
Burkeen is also charged with second-degree burglary stemming from an arrest made after the Memorial Day wreck. Blankenship said that case is running parallel to the wreck case, and prosecutors will decide later which one to pursue first.
Contact Mallory Panuska, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8684 or follow @MalloryPanuska on Twitter.