A Scottsville man was spared his life last week after he pleaded guilty to raping and murdering a Western student in May.
Stephen L. Soules, 21, pleaded guilty to Pellville freshman Melissa “Katie” Autry’s murder and other related charges on March 23. Soules will serve life in prison without the possibility of probation or parole under the plea agreement.
He will also be expected to testify against his co-defendant, Lucas B. Goodrum.
Goodrum, 22, of Scottsville is expected go on trial in early August. Soules’ trial was originally scheduled for that date.
Soules’ final sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Sept. 8, said Renae Tuck, director of the public defender’s office in Bowling Green. That date could change if Goodrum’s trial hasn’t yet ended.
“It was in Stephen’s best interest,” she said of his decision to plead guilty.
Soules’ family supported his decision, Tuck said. They were present when Soules made his plea.
Soules’ mother, Jean Soules, told The Courier-Journal that her son is not guilty, despite the plea agreement.
“I know my son is not no murderer,” she said. “If he’d been the only one in the room with that girl, she would be alive today.”
Jury selection for Goodrum’s trial is expected to begin on July 30, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said. The trial would begin the following Monday.
David Broderick, Goodrum’s attorney, did not return telephone messages this week.
The plea agreement was necessary to secure Soules’ testimony against Goodrum in court, Cohron said. The U. S. Supreme Court ruling on March 8 in Crawford v. Washington prohibits the use of statements made out of court.
Prosecutors wanted a jury to determine Soules’ fate, they needed his testimony to get a conviction against Goodrum, Cohron said. Discussions about a plea agreement began after trial dates were set at a March 15 hearing.
“When Mr. Soules got his trial date, I think that kind of kicked him into gear to the reality of the situation,” he said.
Virginia White, Autry’s aunt, agreed.
“I guess after his court date was set, it was a slap of reality,” she said.
White said she wanted both men to receive the worst punishment possible by law, but she understands that the plea agreement was necessary.
“Stephen Soules, to me, has no reason to lie,” she said. “He’s going to spend the rest of his life in a cell.”
Soules pleaded guilty to seven of nine charges – murder, rape, complicity to rape, sodomy, complicity to sodomy, complicity to arson and robbery. The other two charges – complicity to murder and arson – were dropped by the prosecution.
Cohron said both Soules and Goodrum were principal actors in the murder. And prosecutors believe Soules assisted Goodrum in arson.
Cohron said prosecutors do not have any forensic evidence against Goodrum and did not expect to find any because of the amount of water that filled Autry’s dorm room on the night of the attack when the sprinkler system went off.
Soules and Goodrum pleaded not guilty to Autry’s murder and other charges after they were indicted on July 18.
Both men are in custody at the Warren County Regional Jail.
Autry was raped, sodomized and set on fire in her Poland Hall dorm room on May 4. She died from third-degree burns on May 7 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]