John W. Todd Jr., 64, pleaded guilty Thursday in Fayette Circuit Court to first-degree manslaughter for the March 6, 2007, shooting death of his wife, Charlene Lynn Todd, 48.

Fayette Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kathy Phillips recommended a 10-year sentence. First-degree manslaughter carries a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison.

Under questioning by Judge Kimberly Bunnell, Todd admitted to shooting and killing his wife. He said he understood the judge was not obligated to accept the prosecution’s recommendation and he could not withdraw his guilty plea.

Todd’s attorney, Jerry Wright, told Bunnell his client had committed the crime under extreme emotional circumstances and would seek a hearing to determine whether he was a victim of domestic violence. Under Kentucky law, defendants are automatically entitled to such a hearing, Bunnell said.

She gave Wright until Oct. 24 to petition for the hearing, and the attorney said he expected to file well before then. Bunnell said she would not schedule sentencing until after the hearing.

If Todd is found to be a victim of domestic violence, he would no longer be considered a violent offender and could become eligible for parole after serving as little 20 percent of his sentence, said Assistant Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kathy Phillips. Because he has been in jail for nearly 19 months, Todd would only have to serve about five more months if the judge determines he was a victim of domestic violence.    

Normally, he would become eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his sentence, Phillips said, or nearly seven more years. Phillips told Bunnell the state would “take a strong position” that Todd had not been subjected to domestic violence prior to shooting his wife of less than one year.

Bunnell will preside at the hearing and determine if the evidence supports Todd’s claim of being a victim of domestic violence.

Todd entered the courtroom dressed in a green Fayette County Detention Center jumpsuit and was shackled at the ankles. He limped and walked with the assistance of a cane.

A Fayette County grand jury indicted Todd, older brother of Richmond Register Editor Jim Todd, in June 2007 for intentional murder. He was scheduled to stand trial Monday, but agreed to plead guilty to the reduced charge.

Through a spokesperson, Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson declined to discuss the rationale for the plea bargain.

The morning after shooting his wife, Todd came to his brother’s newspaper office and held him at gunpoint for about 90 minutes, threatening several times to kill him.

Jim Todd said his older brother told him that he and his wife had quarreled the night before and he had shot her four times.

“John said he wouldn’t go to prison and would take his own life before he would be taken alive by police. Because he expected to be dead sometime that day, he said had come to kill me first,” Jim Todd said.

His brother had harbored ill feelings toward him since their father died in 1989. Their father had named Jim Todd executor of his will.

The armed brother, who had held a .38-caliber handgun approximately two feet from the editor, ended up telling him he would not kill him if he told John Todd's children that he had come to the Register to kill him, but did not.

Despite the armed confrontation, the situation ended without incident.

Following a statewide manhunt, John Todd surrendered to Fayette County authorities that night at his eldest son’s home near Versailles.

Madison County charges of wanton endangerment and unlawful imprisonment, each Class D felonies punishable by up to five years in prison, are still open, but inactive at present against John Todd in connection with the incident in the editor's office.



Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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