Murray State basketball guard, Zaveral “Zay” Jackson, has been suspended for the 2012-13 season and faces court delays in light of the sitting judge’s decision to recuse himself from the trial.
He was expected to be formally sentenced Monday after pleading guilty to two counts of wanton endangerment and agreeing to a plea deal.
Instead, in open court, Calloway Circuit Judge Dennis Foust resigned from the case after an unknown media source questioned his ties to Murray State and the basketball team.
Due to the holdup in the proceedings, Head Coach Steve Prohm and Athletic Director Allen Ward suspended Jackson for the entire 2012-13 basketball season.
“The recent delay in the legal proceedings was unexpected; however, we respect the process and will continue to monitor it closely,” Ward said. “My examination and evaluation of the events have been ongoing and I believe it is in the best interest of all concerned for me to formalize a course of action as it relates to Zay’s participation with the team this season.”
Jackson entered the plea deal after his charges were reduced to the initial two counts of second-degree assault, after striking two victims with his car in the Murray Walmart parking lot.
The deal included 30 days in jail, to be served on weekends due to Murray State classes, attendance of anger management courses, community service projects and restitution for the victims.
Foust informed Commonwealth Attorney Mark Blankenship and defense attorney Gary Haverstock of his resignation before court on Monday.
“I feel that to ensure (confidence) in this case I must recuse myself,” Foust said in open court.
The next hearing is set for Nov. 13, giving the court enough time to appoint a special judge. The judge can either agree with the plea deal Jackson has accepted or can reject it entirely.
Blankenship said he was concerned Foust would not agree to the deal after the Walmart surveillance video became viral. When Haverstock and Blankenship talked with Foust about the sentence, the judge did not seem convinced the plea deal was enough to ensure it would not happen again.
Haverstock was called several times and no contact could be made.
“Foust said to me, ‘I don’t know if anger management will be enough,’” Blankenship said. “He was thinking there might be something deeper. (Jackson) got so mad, so fast, over what seemed to be an insignificant event. I think the video really showed his anger and Foust wanted to find other options.”
Foust never signed the plea agreement, Jackson will not return to jail or serve any of the diversion program until the attorneys and the appointed judge decide on an agreement.
The victims of the assault, Jason and Alia Clement from Paducah, Ky., called Blankenship’s office Monday after the hearing to disagree with the plea agreement. The couple originally told both Haverstock and Blankenship they would look over the agreement and let the attorneys know if they approved the diversion or not.
Blankenship said he plans on informing the appointed judge of Foust’s idea of counseling for Jackson. Blankenship said he does not expect a much harsher punishment for Jackson from the judge, because first-time student offenders do not end up with felony punishments.
“I think we have always done this in a similar way,” Blankenship said. “We don’t want to put a permanent felony on a young person, because it affects students and their future career.”
Jackson was expected to play a starting role this season for the Racers. With the season only weeks away, Prohm said he will support Jackson in the judicial system.
“He’s still suspended from the basketball team, and from all the practices and team activities,” Prohm said. “We’re letting him go through the judicial system, but there’s a lot more to the situation that I know that a lot of people on the outside do not know. I’m committed to Zay and I’m here to help him through this process.”
Story by Lexy Gross, Staff writer