Monday, August 9, 2004

Cabbie's killer accused of 2nd murder

This time, victim was clerk; suspect was out on parole

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - A convicted murderer who was paroled in December 2003 has been charged with another killing, angering friends and families of both victims.

Taquan Neblett was 16 when he was sent to prison for fatally shooting a Louisville cab driver in 1993.

Neblett had no prior convictions, according to a parole board. During his incarceration he had few disciplinary problems, worked toward a college degree and participated in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.

A prison assessment classified him as a low risk to break the law again. He was due for release in 2007, but a parole board freed him four years early, when they could set some conditions and ensure supervision.

The decision "looked like the proper decision to make," said John Coy, chairman of the Kentucky Parole Board. He wasn't one of the three members who voted unanimously to parole Neblett but knows the circumstances of the case.

Now, Neblett is charged with robbing a Lexington music store on July 2 and shooting the store's owner, Sami Hajibrahim, 31, and an employee, Derek Elam, 22. Elam later died.

Neblett was being held in the Fayette County jail. He has pleaded not guilty.

The news stunned Ruth Gilbert, the mother of cab driver, Russell Gilbert, killed by Neblett in 1993.

"If they had waited till his serve-out date, he would have been older and might have been more mature about the way he looked at things," she said.

"It's inexplicable," said Keith Hardison, executive director of the Kentucky Parole Board when Neblett was paroled. He said he wasn't involved in the decision, but he listened to the hearing tape.

Coy and Hardison said that by allowing Neblett's release, the parole board made sure Neblett would stay out of Jefferson County, continue to get tested for drugs and meet with a parole officer until 2013.

If he'd served out his prison term, with good-behavior time he could have been released in 2007 with no conditions.

Neblett's record also may have been a factor. The three board members wouldn't comment on the case, but one member said during the December hearing that Neblett had no previous record.

Neblett's juvenile court records are sealed, but records from the 1993 case include a notation that he assaulted someone during an attempted robbery as a youth growing up in Detroit. It's unclear if the parole board saw those records.

Coy said the board was reviewing how the case was handled.

Prosecutor John Balliet said Neblett told police he and Gilbert got into a struggle and he fired a warning shot that hit Gilbert.

Neblett told the parole board that he was not trying to shoot Gilbert.

Neblett acknowledged that the shooting was unnecessary: "There definitely was a way I could have avoided it."

Neblett said he had a troubled childhood.

Lexington police say Neblett had a gun and demanded cash from the register and from Hajibrahim. According to a police report, Neblett told police he fired a handgun during an altercation at the store. He has been charged with murder, assault, robbery, tampering with physical evidence and possession of a handgun by a felon.

Walter Mitchell, Neblett's stepfather, said he was surprised about how things turned out.

"Taquan is a real intelligent person," he said. "He should have just left."

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