A man awaiting trial on a murder charge was convicted on charges of first-degree promoting contraband and second-degree persistent felony offender in Harlan Circuit Court on Tuesday.
Shelby Lee Shell, 30, of Berea, appeared in front of Harlan Circuit Judge Henry Johnson to stand trial on charges stemming from an Oct. 17 search of his cell at the Harlan County Detention Center.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Parker Boggs, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Karen Davenport and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jonathan Lee representing the state in the proceeding.
Shell was represented by attorneys Will Seidelman, Laura Karem and Roger Gibb of the Department of Public Advocacy.
Davenport called Harlan County Detention Center Sgt. Derrick Moore to the stand to testify.
Moore testified a search of Shell’s cell turned up a rope in Shell’s shoe. The rope was approximately 36 inches in length.
Shell’s attorney Will Seidelman suggested during cross examination that Shell was using the rope as a belt.
Moore testified he had not seen Shell wearing a rope belt during his stay at the detention center.
Davenport called several other HCDC employees to the stand to testify concerning items found during the search of Shell’s cell.
According to testimony, a sharpened shank fashioned out of a long metal rod that had been removed from the shower in Shell’s cell, a plastic spoon that had been altered and a small replica of a gun were also found during the search.
Harlan Detention Center Lt. Daniel Howard testified Shell’s cell would have been searched before Shell’s occupation and no contraband was previously found in the cell.
In his closing argument, Seidelman told the jury the state has the burden of proof and must convince the jury beyond reasonable doubt of Shell’s guilt.
Seidelman cited areas of doubt for the jury’s consideration, including the state’s lack of any video showing Shell committing the offenses and no evidence of the metal shank being sharpened.
Seidelman also argued there was doubt whether Shell’s cell had been searched previous to his occupation of it.
“It’s your job to determine if the state has met reasonable doubt,” said Seidelman, referring to the state’s burden of proof.
In her closing, Davenport pointed out Shell had occupied his cell for two months before the October search and no contraband had been found.
“No there’s no video,” said Davenport. “But these things were found.”
Davenport also mentioned cells are always searched before an inmate is placed in them.
“He’s guilty of promoting contraband in the first degree,” said Davenport. “We ask you find him guilty of that.”
After a 30-minute deliberation in chambers, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of first-degree promoting contraband.
The penalty phase brought a recommended sentence of five years from the jury, enhanced to 10 years following a guilty verdict on the second-degree persistent felony offender charge.
Johnson set sentencing for April 3 and remanded Shell into custody.
Joe P. Asher may be reached at 606-573-4510, ext. 113 or on Twitter @joe_hde