HARRODSBURG — Meagan Brooks accepted a plea deal from prosecutors Tuesday, pleading guilty to second-degree man-slaughter in the smothering death of her mother, Debora Brooks. She is expected to receive a 17-year prison sentence.
Co-defendant Paul Estes, however, rejected his offer Tuesday and now could face the death penalty if his case goes to trial.
Brooks, 24, and Estes, 36, were charged with murder in the May 2009 death of Debora Brooks, who was found with a plastic bag over her head inside her Mercer County home after Meagan Brooks called 911. Police initially ruled the elder Brooks’ death a suicide but later determined that the pair plotted to kill Debora Brooks to cash in on her insurance policies.
In negotiations with prosecutors, Meagan Brooks agreed to a 17-year prison term, and the question Tuesday became what charges would she plead to in order to come up with that total. She received the maximum sentence of 10 years on the manslaughter plea, plus five years for hindering prosecution and two years for tampering with evidence, to be served consecutively for a total of 17 years.
Bottoms explained the hindering prosecution and tampering charges — both new — were related to Brooks’ attempt to mislead police into thinking her mother’s death was a suicide. They were introduced Tuesday as information charges, allowing Brooks to plead guilty to them without having been formally indicted.
Under the sentence, Brooks, who already has served more than two years in jail, will be eligible for her first parole hearing after serving 20 percent of her sentence, or about three years. That means she could go before the parole board within a year after Mercer Circuit Judge Darren Peckler formally sentences her on Dec. 13. Debora Brooks’ family signed off on the deal, Bottoms said.
Meagan Brooks’ attorney, John Reynolds, declined to comment about his client’s plea agreement.
Bottoms would not disclose details of the plea deal he offered Estes, except to say he did not reduce the murder charge. A¿murder conviction carries a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison all the way up to the death penalty.
Estes is eligible for the death penalty because he and Meagan Brooks allegedly sought financial gain by murdering Debora Brooks. Bottoms said Tuesday the death penalty “remains an option” and he would discuss that possibility with Debora Brooks’ family.
“That’s a major decision that has to be made. I have the authority to do that, but I want to make sure the family is satisfied,” Bottoms said. “The death penalty has never been a primary concern for the family; their primary concern is for both of them to take responsibility for their actions. I think (the family) is interested in seeing him spend a significant part of his life in prison.”
Public defender Susanne McCollough, who represents Estes, indicated her client believes he should have gotten an offer similar to the one Brooks received.
“Our theory is they are both culpable,” McCollough said. “He’s willing to accept responsibility. He knows he has to serve time, but he wants it to be fair, to be more in line with Meagan’s sentence.”
Bottoms declined to spell out what role each defendant allegedly played in Debora Brooks’ death. He did say Brooks died of “smothering”¿and that there was no other injury, but he declined to day if the plastic bag was the only instrument used.
“The decision was made together to commit this act,” Bottoms said. “We feel like he’s the principal defendant in the actual commission of the murder itself.”
Peckler set another pretrial conference for Estes on Dec. 13. Plea negotiations can continue up to that date, the judge said, but if no agreement is reached, the case will be set for trial, then and Bottoms will have to declare if he will seek the death penalty.