Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 4, 2012

Lee’s murder trial heats up

Tim Preston
The Independent

GREENUP — Testimony in the murder trail of Steve Lee, accused of stabbing his wife at their Greenup apartment in March 2011, wrapped up for the week Wednesday in Greenup Circuit Court.

Jurors arrived expecting to hear a recording of Lee speaking to his son and ex-wife made at the Greenup County Sheriff’s Department on the day the body of Leslie “Crickett” Lanham-Lee’s body was found. The judge strongly reprimanded Lee’s attorney, Jonah Stevens, while discussing the recording. While standing before the judge, the attorney apparently attempted to coach an answer to Lee’s ex-wife and son, earning an immediate response from Judge Bob Conley.

“If you do that one more time you’re going to jail for contempt,” the judge said, adding he had already overlooked one attempt. “In fact, why don’t you go sit down at the table. That’s about the most contemptuous thing that I’ve heard in this court.”

After speaking with the ex-wife and son, Conley ruled the recording could not be entered as evidence, citing a “reasonable expectation of privacy” for those involved after Detective David Bocook left Lee alone in the room to conduct the telephone conversation. The judge said the issue is “a gray area,” and explained he based the decision on providing the defendant with a fair trial.

Bocook returned to the stand for a second day of testimony Wednesday, and reviewed the recording of another interview with Lee that included questioning him about an orange and black glove found rolled up into the sweatshirt Mrs. Lee was wearing at the time of her death. Lee denied any knowledge of the glove, which was submitted to the state police crime lab for DNA testing. The testing found male DNA, Bocook said, although it did not match Lee or any of several others who submitted genetic samples to the investigator.

On cross examination, Stevens worked to establish flaws in Bocook’s investigation and questioned the detective about issues ranging from Bocook’s failure to request the assistance of the Kentucky State Police Forensics Team; a lack of photos of Lee’s hands at the murder scene; items not taken as evidence; security of the scene; and lack of testing for dog hairs in Lee’s vehicle to possibly establish if he had removed his wife’s highly protective dog from their home.

Stevens also questioned Bocook about his inability to find an electrical switch in the garage beneath the Lee’s apartment. “I just want to make sure I understand this. The lead investigator can’t find the light switch in the garage?” Stevens asked.

Stevens also drilled Bocook about his failure to collect a section of wall in the apartment that had the message “SNITCH! U R NEXT!” within a crude diamond pattern written on it in an area near where Mrs. Lee’s body was found. Bocook said he tried to remove the section of drywall, but the piece threatened to crumble and destroy the message. The defense attorney also asked the detective why he did not ask for Lee’s T-shirt, which the investigator had repeatedly remarked about being “the very first thing I noticed” when initially interviewing Lee.

After the lunch break, Lee’s ex-wife, Tonya Hunt, was called to the stand. Hunt told the court she had been in touch with Lee before the murder and they had been resolving their relationship while counting down the days remaining until a weekend together at a rental cabin in Tennessee. They were set to leave on March 4, she said, the day of Mrs. Lee’s death.

“He said that he loved me and wanted to put our family back together,” she said, soon adding Lee did not tell her how he planned to break up with his current wife. “I asked and I just got ‘Trust me,’ and that he had business to take care of.”

Hunt read copies of several email conversations between herself and Lee, each expressing their love and plans to go away together. Hunt said she “unfortunately” realized they had established a “countdown” for Lee’s leaving his wife, explaining they planned to go away on March 4. Hunt said she tried to call Lee repeatedly on March 3, but was unable to contact him.

When Lee did not show up for their trip, Lee’s ex-wife said her son stated he had a bad feeling and called the sheriff’s department at the advice of KSP. Hunt said Lee has not made any effort to contact her or either of his sons since Mrs. Lee’s death.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Cliff Duvall asked Hunt what her ex-husband did while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and she said his paperwork indicated he worked in communications, “but he told me he was a sniper.”

Lee’s “best friend,” and former housemate, Derek Justice, testified he was unaware of any plans by Lee to leave his wife. Justice said he tried to comfort Lee through a period of deep mourning after Mrs. Lee’s death. On the day after Mrs. Lee’s funeral, Justice said Lee told him he had not been truthful about what had happened.

“He said when he woke up there was a man with a gun in his face and pictures of his kids and another man with Leslie on the bed. He said they told him to do as he was told or they would kill his kids,” Justice said, adding he was told Mrs. Lee had already been stabbed once in the neck at that point. Justice said Lee told him the men forced him to a closet, where he put on his T-shirt backwards, and then told him to leave, giving instructions about where he was to go and how long he should stay gone. Justice said Lee told him the unidentified men said he could call police and an ambulance when he returned, but they would kill his children if they were mentioned.

Justice said he “begged” Lee to tell the story to state police or the FBI, but he refused, citing fear for his children’s safety. Justice further stated Lee told him his dead wife said “You take care of your kids,” before she was killed, and that she was dead before he left the apartment. Justice said Lee’s only description of the men was that they had “Northern accents, not like people around here.” Duvall asked Justice if he knew of Lee’s job in the Marines and he answered Lee had been a scout sniper and even carried a medallion in his wallet to prove it.

Justice also said he had allowed Lee to bring his dead wife’s sister into the home they shared after he met her at Mrs. Lee’s funeral. Justice said he theorized the sister comforted Lee, noting she was “strikingly similar” to her sister except for hair color. Justice said the two seemed to begin as friends but later developed a physical relationship.

Lisa Lashbrook of Lexington testified she met Lee during an event at Austin City Saloon in Lexington the weekend before Mrs. Lee’s murder. Lashbrook said she and Lee were both outside smoking cigarettes when she realized he was flirting with her. She said she asked him who he was there with and if he was married.

“He said he was married but not for much longer,” she testified, adding she told him she does not date married men and especially not someone married to another person associated with the group she was interested in joining.

“He said, ‘Give me six months. I’ll have you,” Lashbrook said, explaining the comment “creeped me out” and she avoided any further contact with him. Lashbrook said she found out who Lee was after a mutual friend recognized the email address he gave her in case she wanted to contact him. Lashbrook noted she did not give Lee any personal contact information.

Testimony in the trial will resume in Greenup District Court at 9 a.m. Monday.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.