SOMERSET, Ky. – Pulaski County Sheriff Sam Catron was well-known as an enemy of drug traffickers, flying a helicopter to search for marijuana plants and filling courtrooms with offenders his department had nabbed.
One sting he helped orchestrate in September 2000 resulted in 73 arrests and 129 indictments, the largest drug roundup in the county's history.
But investigators aren't saying whether it was Catron's tough stance on drugs or some other motive that led to his sniper-style murder on Saturday night.
A bullet from a high-powered rifle killed the 48-year-old Catron shortly after he finished a campaign speech at a fish fry and political rally at a volunteer fire department in Shopville, a tiny community about 70 miles south of Lexington.
Catron was running for a fifth term as sheriff, and the man charged in the shooting — Danny Shelley, 30, of Eubank — was apprehended after wrecking a motorcycle registered to Jeff Morris, one of Catron's opponents in the May 28 primary.
Attorney's representing Shelley waived his arraignment Monday morning and entered an innocent plea.
Public defender Jim Cox told Pulaski County Judge Michael Henry that he did not want Shelley brought into the courtroom in the orange jail jumpsuit with shackles.
"We're trying to keep the pre-trial publicity down or at least minimize the harm of the pre-trial publicity," said Mark Stanziano, an attorney representing Shelley.
Capt. Paul Hays, commander of the Kentucky State Police post in London, said Sunday that Morris was not a suspect in the case.
Morris did not return phone calls to his home.
Hays wouldn't speculate on the motive for the shooting. He sidestepped questions about the relationship between Morris and Shelley, saying "that's part of the investigation that we're following up on."
Jim McWhorter, the chief deputy sworn in as sheriff, said Morris was a deputy under Catron from 1996 to July 2001.
McWhorter wouldn't comment on Morris' reason for leaving the sheriff's office, but he said he knew of no ill will between Catron and Morris.
Catron had been the sheriff of the sparsely populated south-central Kentucky county since 1985.
Mourners on Sunday began placing flowers outside the Shopville-Stab Volunteer Fire Department, the site of the combination political rally, fish fry and auction where Catron was killed.
"You wouldn't meet a nicer person," said Fire Chief R.J. Riley. "He treated everyone like he wanted to be treated. He lived by the golden rule."
Catron was shot as as he was leaving the event about 7:15 p.m. EDT. Hays said the shot came from "a considerable distance."
Pulaski County Coroner Alan Stringer said the bullet hit Catron in the head and killed him instantly.
Catron had just bought two cakes at the rally and was putting them into his cruiser when he was shot, said Shopville-Stab Volunteer Fire Department Chief R.J. Riley.
"The cake was still sitting on the car, on the trunk lid," said Darrell Beshears, the Pulaski County judge-executive.
Shelley was caught shortly after the shooting, when a sheriff's deputy and a Shopville firefighter gave chase and Shelley wrecked the motorcycle he was riding.
Commonwealth's Attorney Eddy Montgomery said he may seek the death penalty in the case. Hays said investigators so far had not turned up any past criminal record on Shelley.
Under Kentucky law, shooting a police officer in the line of duty is a capital offense. Montgomery said Catron was in uniform when he was shot, but he said it may be questionable whether he was technically on duty.
Catron was known to wear a bulletproof vest, because his father, then-Somerset Police Chief Harold Catron, had been shot and killed in 1964. He was wearing it on Saturday.
"The senseless murder or assassination of our sheriff, who always had a smile on his face and dedication in his heart, is devastating to the community," Fred Neikirk, the former county attorney, said Sunday.
Somerset Mayor J.P. Wiles, who has known Catron since he was a deputy sheriff, said Catron's death shocked local residents.
"People were just sick," he said Sunday. "It was devastating. We've got a quiet little community here. Then something like this happens — it turns everything upside down."
Wiles said Catron was known for his personal dedication to his job, and it was not unusual to find the sheriff, who was single, out on patrol with his deputies at 2 a.m.
"Law enforcement was Sam's life," Wiles said. "That's what he lived and breathed and did well."
Catron trained as a pilot so he could fly a sheriff's department helicopter used in aerial spotting of marijuana plants.
Circuit Judge Bill Cain, who was among those who came to the sheriff's department on Sunday to pay his respects, said Catron kept his courtroom busy with his drug arrests.
Catron also had appeared on a segment of America's Most Wanted that aired Saturday about a former militia member who is wanted by police in eastern Kentucky.
State police spokeswoman Lt. Lisa Rudzinski said police had no reason to believe Catron's shooting was related to that case.
Shelley was not widely known in Somerset, said Brian Perkins, a former classmate.
"He was a jolly kid who went to work in Georgetown after he graduated from high school," said Perkins, a deputy coroner in Pulaski County. "He had gotten injured and came back to Pulaski County."
Shelley's high school yearbook called him one of the sweetest guys in Pulaski County. Neighbors in Eubank didn't know Shelley or his family well.
"They're just not mixers," said Bill Ward, owner of Ward's Restaurant. "They didn't associate much with anyone."