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Boyle teen implicated in step-mother’s death pleads guilty to manslaughter

Jenna Oakley, 17, briefly appeared in Boyle Circuit Court Monday and entered a guilty plea to an amended charge of first-degree manslaughter.

She was originally charged with murder and theft by unlawful taking, stemming from a September 2016 incident when her stepmother, Rhonda Oakley, was found dead in the basement of the family home. Oakley, who was 15 at the time, and her 20-year-old boyfriend, Kenneth Nigh, were taken into custody three days later in New Mexico, where they were found with Rhonda Oakley’s vehicle. After their arrests, Nigh later died in a hospital after attempting to hang himself in his jail cell.

The original charge of murder is a capital offense and the amended charge of first-degree manslaughter is a Class B Felony.

In court papers signed on Friday and filed Monday following Oakley’s plea, Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Bottoms recommended a sentence of 10 years on the manslaughter charge and five years for the theft charge, to be served consecutively for a total of 15 years.  

Final sentencing for Oakley is scheduled at 9 a.m. Feb. 22.

Boyle Circuit Court Judge Darren Peckler also ordered the Department of Juvenile Justice to prepare a pre-sentence investigation report on Oakley.

Oakley’s case had been set for trial next week. On Friday, Oakley’s public defense attorneys argued that her murder case should be remanded to juvenile court because the decision of the district court to have her tried as an adult was “an abuse of its discretion and an arbitrary and capricious act.”

Two weeks ago, Oakley’s defense attorneys also filed a motion to suppress statements Oakley made while in custody in New Mexico and statements she made to Kentucky State Police detectives while being returned to Kentucky.

On Monday, Boyle Circuit Court Judge Darren Peckler denied the motion to remand Oakley’s case to juvenile court, writing that, “It is apparent from the review that the District Judge heard evidence and arguments concerning each of the eight factors” that needed to be addressed when deciding whether to send a juvenile to circuit court as an adult.

Peckler added, “The Commonwealth clearly spoke to the seriousness of the offense … and the defendant’s conduct and pre-meditation spoke to an advance level of maturity.”

Judge Pecker also denied the motion to suppress statements Oakley made to KSP detectives while en route from New Mexico to Kentucky. Judge Peckler wrote, “There is nothing to indicate that the officer’s conduct overcame the defendant’s will. … The defendant, in fact, appeared anxious to discuss the crime being investigated.”

However, the motion to suppress a tape recording of Oakley made by a New Mexico juvenile detention center officer without giving Oakley a Miranda warning, was granted by Judge Peckler.