Judge Denies Bartley's Appeal to Change Plea

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Jacksboro, Campbell County (WVLT) - Kenneth Bartley Jr. won't get a second chance, at least not from a Campbell County judge.

The teen serving almost a half century in connection with a school shooting at Campbell County High School had wanted to change his guilty plea and perhaps take his chances at trial.

Bartley came to court Monday with a new attorney and new hope. Instead, he's right back where he was after making his plea.

Attorney Bruce Poston told the court Monday that Kenneth Bartley, Jr.'s April 10th guilty plea was not made voluntarily and his parents weren't in on the decision. District Attorney Paul Phillips calls Bartley's motion a "change of heart."

Bartley says he was nervous and scared that day and feared he'd get two life sentences.

"Mr. Hatmaker just kept talking about the felony murder and how I would probably get that no matter what, and he said Mrs. Bruce was really pushing for first degree murder,” Bartley said on the stand Monday.

Young Bartley's mother says she found out about the deal when Bartley's former attorney Mike Hatmaker whispered it to her in the court room.

"I didn't understand what was going on. I knew it wasn't what we agreed to. We agreed to have a trial,” says Bartley’s mother, Rita Vannoy.

Hatmaker told the court of Bartley's reaction to the plea offer, which makes him eligible for parole after serving 29-years. "He said ‘yes’ to take the plea agreement that he hoped they would go lower. But that he would take that.”

After nearly three hours of witness testimony and closing arguments, Judge Jon Blackwood ruled against Bartley's motion.

"Well, I'm disappointed in the decision,” says Bruce Poston, Bartley’s new attorney.

For the widow of slain Campbell County High School Assistant Principal Ken Bruce, nothing changes.

"Really we feel no differently today than we felt before. It's just there are no winners in any of this,” says Jo Bruce.

For Kenneth Bartley, Jr., there's another chance that things may change for him.

"While I'm not surprised at the judge's ruling, I think the record's good enough to look at a possible appeal,” says Poston.

Bartley's attorney, Bruce Poston, told WVLT that an appeal has to be done within 30 days of Monday.

He added, if he does appeal, it will be done sooner than later.

It's interesting to note that Bartley’s father did not attend Monday’s proceedings.

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