Fayette judge denies murder defendant's 'stand your ground' claim

gkocher1@herald-leader.comSeptember 10, 2012 

The body of Kerry "Sam" Mitchell was found in a top-floor unit of an apartment on North Limestone at Fifth Street on Tuesday morning. Friends hadn't seen the 35-year-old since last week.

DAVID PERRY | STAFF

A judge denied a defendant's motion Monday to dismiss a murder charge based on Kentucky's 2006 "stand your ground" law.

Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone said he found probable cause that it was "clearly unlawful" for Patrick Deon Ragland to use force against Kerry "Sam" Mitchell. The judge's ruling rejected Ragland's claim of self-defense.

Ragland, 39, is accused of beating Mitchell to death. Mitchell, 35, was found dead in a closet in his North Limestone apartment on Dec. 28, 2010.

Ragland told police that he attacked Mitchell after Mitchell made sexual advances toward him.

New details about the case became public during an hour-long hearing.

For example, Lexington police Sgt. David Richardson, a former homicide detective who investigated the case and who has since been promoted, said a strap was found around Mitchell's neck, and the print of a shoe or boot was found on Mitchell's back.

That evidence indicates that Mitchell's attacker had pulled on the strap while holding Mitchell's body down with a foot, and that the attacker had tried to "choke him out," Richardson said.

Ragland had admitted to police that he struck Mitchell with a frying pan and kicked him, according to court documents.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn argued that Ragland could have left the apartment and did not have to use deadly physical force against Mitchell.

But public defender Lucas Roberts, citing other police interviews and a toxicology report, noted that drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, oxycodone and others were found in Mitchell's bloodstream.

Mitchell continued to hold onto Ragland after Ragland refused his advances, Roberts said. Roberts characterized the struggle in a way to portray Mitchell as a person under the influence who continued to hold onto Ragland as Ragland tried to get away.

"I would argue that Mr. Ragland's right to defend himself carries on through this whole ordeal," Roberts said. "He has nothing to do but continue to hit him and get him off him."

Under Kentucky's stand your ground law, a law enforcement agency may not arrest a person "for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful."

When the stand your ground defense is invoked, prosecutors must present enough evidence before trial to establish probable cause that the use of force was illegal.

In denying the defense motion, Scorsone said the prosecution had "clearly met" its burden to show probable cause existed and that the use of force was unlawful. In addition to murder, Ragland is charged with tampering with physical evidence. Ragland told police that he disposed of a sweater and the shoes he wore during the struggle, and also admitted taking Mitchell's cellphone.

Ragland is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 7 in Fayette Circuit Court.

Kentucky's stand your ground law is under review by the state Supreme Court. A divided Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in June that a manslaughter charge against a Northern Kentucky man should be dismissed because prosecutors could not rebut his claim of self-defense under the law.

Similar laws in other states have drawn attention and scrutiny since neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during a Feb. 26 fight in Florida. Zimmerman contends the shooting was in self-defense under Florida's stand your ground law. Zimmerman faces a second-degree murder charge.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305.Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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