Death sentence switched to life for man guilty of murder

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky man on death row for murdering a student has worked out a deal to convert his death sentence into a life sentence without parole.

Circuit Judge Eddy Coleman approved a motion Friday to set aside 69-year-old Roger Dale Epperson’s death sentence and re-sentence him to life without parole, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

Epperson was convicted of murdering 23-year-old Tammy Dee Acker in August 1985 in her father’s home during a robbery. Benny Lee Hodge, now 68, and Harlan County resident Donald Terry Bartley, now 61, also were convicted in the case.

Two men posed as FBI agents to get inside the home of Dr. R.J. Acker, Tammy Acker’s father. A third man later joined them.

The assailants forced Dr. Acker to open his safe and then one of the men choked him with the cord of a curling iron until he passed out. One of the men attacked Tammy Acker, stabbing her in the back with a butcher knife.

Bartley testified against Epperson, saying Epperson orchestrated the whole thing.

Bartley was sentenced to 25 years in prison and Hodge received a death sentence.

Epperson was appealing on numerous grounds such as jury bias and a poor defense from his lawyer Lester Burns. The appeal process could have gone on until Epperson was in his 80s.

Epperson’s attorneys, the Ackers and the state agreed that if Epperson would give up the appeal of his conviction, the death sentence would be removed, which would save tax dollars and give the Acker family closure.

Although this death sentence was put aside, Epperson is still sentenced to death for the June 1985 murders of Edwin Morris, 65, and wife Bessie, 69. So is Hodge. The two were convicted in the fatal shooting of the couple during a robbery.

The state of Kentucky has executed three men since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on capital punishment in 1976.

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