Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

October 10, 2012

Testimony wraps in Lee murder trial

GREENUP — Testimony concluded Tuesday in the murder trial of Charles Steven “Steve” Lee in Greenup Circuit Court.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Cliff Duvall rested his case on Monday, and Lee’s defense attorney, Jonah Stevens of Pikeville, finished his just before Tuesday’s lunch recess.

Following the lunch break, Judge Bob Conley told jurors that rather than risk having deliberations go late into the evening and having to sequester them for the night, he would dismiss court for the day and bring them back this morning to hear instructions and closing remarks, then begin deliberating.

Lee, 44, faces 20 years to life in prison if he is convicted in the March 2, 2011, slaying of his wife, Leslie “Crickett” Lanham-Lee, 40, who was found dead in the couple’s apartment on East Main Street in Greenup. She died of two stab wounds to the lower front portion of her neck. One of the wounds severed an artery, which likely caused her to bleed to death within about 10 minutes, a state medical examiner testified.

Steve Lee told investigators he wasn’t home when his wife was murdered. He said he awoke between 4:30 and 5 that morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, so he decided to go for a drive. He said he found his wife dead upon returning home about an hour and 45 minutes later.

Lee also told authorities he believed his wife — an outspoken community advocate who led efforts to raise money for groups that assist abused children and veterans — may have been killed because of a disagreement between her and the Pagans, an outlaw motorcycle club that saw a number of its members arrested in 2009 for a litany of federal crimes.

Stevens rested his case after calling a total of six witnesses. Lee elected to invoke his right to remain silent and not take the stand on his own behalf.

Two of the defense witnesses were current and former Greenup County Detention Center inmates called to discredit the testimony of another inmate, Joe Davis, who on Monday told jurors Lee had confessed to him he had killed his wife, but told him he didn’t believe he would be convicted of doing so because of a lack of evidence.

One of the inmates, Brian Batey, told jurors Davis was well-known as a “jailhouse rat” who had earned the nickname “C.O. Joe” by informing on a former correctional officer at the jail who subsequently pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs into the detention center.

Batey, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading to guilty the Oct. 30, 2011, robbery of the Best Western hotel in Russell, also said he never saw Davis, a jail trusty, and Lee having a conversation during his time he was housed in the same GCDC cell pod as those two.

Batey is housed in the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in Lagrange, according to the Kentucky Offender Online Lookup System.

On cross-examination, Duvall asked Batey whether he knew any of the information Davis allegedly relayed to authorities to be untrue. He also reminded Batey the guard Davis had allegedly informed on, Causetta M. “Michelle” Tackett, was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 10 years, a good indication Davis was telling the truth about her illegal activities.

“I just don’t like jailhouse rats,” Batey said. “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time is my motto.”

Duvall also asked Batey whether he’d “sought out” Lee soon after his incarceration in the GCDC. Batey denied that, but admitted he’d thought about administering Lee some “jailhouse justice” because he was familiar with his case and he didn’t care for people who harmed women and children.

“That’s the way it is on the West Coast, where I’m from,” he said.

The other inmate witness, Jonathan Enyart, also testified he’d never seen interaction between Lee and Davis.

Greenup County Jailer Mike Worthington was questioned by Stevens about the surveillance cameras in the detention center. Stevens also asked whether Greenup County Sheriff’s Detective David Bocook, the lead investigator in the Lee case, had requested security footage showing Lee and Davis together.

Worthington said he had not, but he also said the surveillance system only stored footage for about 30 days, so, if such footage ever existed, it may well have been purged from the system.

Dr. James T. McClintock, an independent DNA analyst hired by the defense to review the Kentucky State Police Central Crime Lab’s findings in the case, testified via tape-recorded deposition. In it, he said he concurred with the conclusion of the KSP’s DNA analyst, Allison Tunstill, who testified on Monday — that the inside of a glove found with Lanham-Lee’s body contained a mixture of DNA from Lanham-Lee and an “untested male.”

DNA samples from Lee, his two sons, his friend, Derek Justice, and the Lees’ neighbor, Kevin Skaggs, were also tested, and all were ruled out as contributors of the male DNA.

During his cross-examination of McClintock, Duvall asked whether it was possible for the male DNA to have been left in the glove during the manufacturing process if the stiching on it was done by hand. McClintock said he couldn’t rule out that possibility.

Stevens also recalled Bocook to the stand and questioned him about the tests for the presence of blood he performed on Lee’s truck. Bocook acknowledged the tests were negative. Stevens also asked Bocook why he hadn’t ordered tests performed on some stray hairs found on Lanham-Lee’s body by the medical examiner. The detective replied it was because he didn’t see the need for it.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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