A Fayette Circuit Court jury must decide whether self-defense is a mitigating factor in the December 2010 beating death of a Lexington man.
Testimony began Monday in the trial of Patrick Deon Ragland, 40, who is accused of murder in the beating death of Kerry "Sam" Mitchell. Mitchell, 35, was found dead in a closet with a strap around his neck in his North Limestone apartment on Dec. 28, 2010.
Ragland told police that he attacked Mitchell after Mitchell made a sexual advance toward him. But in her opening statement to the jury of six men and eight women, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn said this was not a case of "self-protection."
Police learned that in the days before Mitchell's death, Ragland had been a guest at Mitchell's apartment. The two met in March 2010 at the Hope Center, a homeless shelter on Loudon Avenue. Then, in December 2010, Ragland spent time at Mitchell's apartment after Ragland's wife threw him out for continued drug use.
Ragland initially told police he knew nothing about Mitchell's death, Red Corn said. Ragland gave police a DNA swab of his mouth, and in fall 2011, police confirmed that Ragland's DNA was found on Mitchell's body and on a frying pan police said was used as a murder weapon.
When he was questioned in September 2011, Ragland acknowledged he had fought with Mitchell after Mitchell made a sexual advance. An autopsy found at least a dozen blunt-force injuries around Mitchell's face, Red Corn said. In addition, strangulation from the strap around Mitchell's neck was a contributing factor to his death.
Ragland maintained that Mitchell was alive when he left the apartment. But "he didn't stop and simply walked out the door," Red Corn said.
In addition to murder, Ragland is charged with tampering with evidence. Ragland told police he disposed of a sweater and the shoes he wore during the struggle, and admitted taking Mitchell's cellphone.
In his opening statement, public defender Lucas Roberts said every person has a right to self-protection. "That right extends to Patrick Ragland," Roberts said.
The defense acknowledged that Ragland's "actions did cause the death of Kerry Mitchell," but Roberts said the jury should consider "why did he use those actions?"
"If he does not defend himself, he's going to be raped or worse," Roberts said.
According to the defense, Ragland continued to hit Mitchell because Mitchell refused to let go during the struggle.
"Patrick had to do what he did to protect himself," Roberts said.
The first four witnesses Monday established the date the body was found in the apartment, and the apartment's disarray when police arrived on the scene.
The trial, which is expected to take two weeks, resumes at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday with Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone presiding.
Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.