A Kentucky police detective tampered with key evidence in a gruesome murder case, and as a result the killers had all murder related charges against them dropped. Now, the lenient plea deal offered to the officer by the then-prosecutor Russell Coleman brings his judgment into sharp focus as he runs for Attorney General of Kentucky — the state’s top law enforcement job.
From 2017 to 2021, Coleman held the chief federal law enforcement officer position for the Western District of Kentucky, overseeing and signing off on plea agreements. One such agreement has raised notable scrutiny:
In the case of Charles J Senters, a Kentucky State Police detective involved in the Eli Marcum murder investigation, glaring missteps were made. Detective Senters mishandled a crime scene by discarding critical evidence —a knife and a telephone wire. He further compromised the investigation by giving a crucial cell phone belonging to the victim to a witness without examining its call log. The detective’s actions were compounded by the false testimony he gave in court about the evidence destruction.
Despite a defendant’s detailed testimony on how the murder was carried out, the magnitude of the cop’s errors were so significant that they led to the dismissal of murder-related charges. The broader narrative is chilling: Jimmy Benge, a drug kingpin suspecting Marcum of being a federal informant, had commissioned Jerry Sizemore to end Marcum’s life. A brutal murder ensued, with Marcum’s body eventually discarded and burned.
Senters’ indiscretions, notably the destruction of evidence while under a county judge’s order to preserve it, resulted in him being charged with three counts of false material declaration. However, it’s Coleman’s plea agreement for Senters that’s now under the microscope. The deal led to the dismissal of two of Senters’ charges, recommending a mere two years of probation. Absent this deal, Senters would have faced up to 15 years behind bars and a hefty $250,000 fine. While individuals in comparable situations faced jail time and were barred from law enforcement duties, Senters received a lenient sentence and no prohibition from returning to law enforcement.
This case presents a potential vulnerability for Coleman, who has been campaigning on a “tough-on-crime agenda” and previously said “I think when people break our laws and put others in danger, they deserve to be thrown in jail. Coleman faces off against Democratic candidate Pamela Stevenson, a retired Air Force Colonel, J.A.G., and a representative for District 43 in the Kentucky State House.