Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 11, 2011

Lee pleads not guilty

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

GREENUP — The husband of slain community activist Leslie “Crickett” Lanham-Lee on Thursday pleaded not guilty to murdering her.

Amid heavy security, Charles Steven “Steve” Lee made his first court appearance since being indicted last month in his wife’s March 4 slaying.

Lee’s attorney, Jonah Stevens of Pikeville, had not arrived when Greenup Circuit Judge Bob Conley called Lee’s case, so Conley allowed Lee to enter the not-guilty plea on his own behalf. He was then whisked out of the courtroom and back to the Greenup County Detention Center.

Stevens showed up a short time later and argued for a bond reduction for his client, but Conley kept Lee’s bond at $350,000 cash only. Conley also scheduled a pretrial hearing in the case.

About a dozen of Crickett Lanham-Lee’s friends and supporters arrived at the courthouse after Steve Lee had already entered his plea and been taken back to his jail cell. Many were members of the Borrowed Angels Charity Riders, an organization co-founded by Lanham-Lee that raises money to benefit veterans and abused children. Most wore buttons bearing Lanham-Lee’s likeness along with ribbons of purple, her favorite color.

“We’re here to see the carriage of justice and to let everyone know we support the system,” said Sheila Shain of Louisville, another of the founders of the Borrowed Angels.

According to Shain, Steve and Crickett Lee had a difficult marriage. The couple married in July 2009, and even before that, she said, Crickett expressed doubts to her about Steve’s fidelity.

Shain said she and the others planned to attend every pretrial hearing in the case, as well as the trial itself.

Lanham-Lee, 40, was found dead in the couple’s home in the 2000 block of East Main Street in Greenup the morning of March 4. She died of stab wounds to the neck. Her dog, a large boxer said to be highly protective of her, was also missing, but was later found in an area off the A-A Highway near the Greenup-Lewis County line.

Steve Lee told investigators he wasn’t home when his wife was murdered. He said he awoke between 4:30 and 5 a.m. 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.

Steve Lee was indicted Oct. 27 on a charge of capital murder. He could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted.

Greenup Commonwealth’s Attorney Cliff Duvall said after court the grand jury investigation that led to Steve Lee’s indictment was one of the most thorough ones he’d ever witnessed, which was why it took nearly eight months for Steve Lee to be charged. Grand jurors heard hours of testimony from numerous witnesses, he said.

According to Duvall, the Casey Anthony murder trial was playing out while the investigation was taking place, and, in light of Anthony’s acquittal in her 2-year-old daughter’s murder because of insufficient evidence, he wanted to make sure no stone was left unturned in the Lee case.

“This grand jury was not a rubber stamp for the prosecutor by any means,” he said.

Lanham-Lee was well known and well regarded for her charitable and advocacy work. Her efforts were mostly centered in the motorcycle community, and her slaying left her fellow riders stunned and saddened.

She founded and was national coordinator of the Katelynn Stinnett National Memorial Ride, which began in 2009. The event is named in honor of a 2-year-old Lexington girl who died in December 2008 of injuries she suffered at the hands of an abuser. In its first year, the ride raised more than $150,000 for charities involved in child abuse prevention.

On Feb. 25, Lanham-Lee was recognized by the Kentucky House of Representatives for her efforts to raise funds for child prevention and awareness of the child abuse epidemic when a resolution in Katelynn Stinnett’s honor was read on the House floor.

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