DANVILLE — A Herrington Lake anniversary cruise that ended in a murder charge first went awry when a husband made "an off-color" comment to his wife about another woman, a Kentucky State Police detective testified Thursday.
Now a grand jury must decide whether Harrodsburg physician Dr. Steven Hall should be indicted for the murder of his wife, Isabel. He is accused of running over her with a pontoon boat.
On Thursday, after a 90-minute preliminary hearing, Boyle District Court Judge Jeff Dotson found probable cause to send Steven Hall's case to the grand jury.
Steven Hall, 46, told police that it was accident, but Kentucky State Police Detective Bill Collins said witnesses' statements led him to conclude that it was no accident that Isabel Hall, 49, is dead.
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Nevertheless, defense attorney Steve Romines told reporters afterward that the police ignored facts that would prove Hall not guilty.
"It's a textbook example of making your decision as soon as you arrive and then trying to gather evidence to support that decision," Romines said, "whereas the way an investigation should be conducted is to gather all the facts and you come to a conclusion."
The couple had left Chimney Rock Marina on a pontoon boat about 2 p.m. May 29. At some point, the couple got into an argument after Steve Hall made an "off-color comment" about another woman's breasts, Detective Collins testified.
Soon, the two got into a struggle during which Isabel Hall bit Steven Hall on the back of his shoulder. He responded by shoving her into the water. Hall told police that his wife began yelling "Help! Help me! He's going to kill me."
Steven Hall told police that he put the boat "full throttle" toward his wife "to try to scare her," but that he struck her instead, Collins said. She suffered deep wounds to her head where a propeller hit her, and cuts to her left hand and left forearm, Collins said.
Witnesses from another pontoon boat several hundred feet away told police that they saw a woman screaming in the water, Collins said.
Collins did not name the witnesses, but this week a Herald-Leader reporter interviewed Dan Merriman, 32, of Manteno, Ill., who said he saw a scenario similar to the one Collins described.
Merriman said he, his fiancée, sister, son and nephew were on a rental pontoon when they saw a woman in the water screaming. "She was trying to flag us down," Merriman said. "She was saying, 'Help me, please help me! He's trying to kill me! God, please help me!' And she repeated all of that quite a few times."
At first, Merriman said they thought she might be joking, but it soon was apparent that it was no prank.
Soon Merriman directed his pontoon toward the other boat. Merriman said they asked the man what happened to the woman in the water, and he responded, "Oh, that's my wife. She's swimming underneath the boat right now."
Later, Merriman said he and the others could see "she was floating underneath the boat, lifeless as can be, white as can be." At that point, Merriman began motoring away, and his sister called a nearby marina while his fiancée called 911.
State police received the first call about the Hall incident shortly after 4:30 p.m. May 29.
Two other witnesses were inmates fishing on the shoreline at nearby Northpoint Training Center, a state prison in Boyle County.
One inmate saw Hall's pontoon boat hit Isabel Hall, Collins said. After the impact, the inmate told police that "Mr. Hall didn't offer assistance but just kind of stood there and looked."
The Halls had gone out on the lake to celebrate their 21st wedding anniversary, Romines said later, and court testimony revealed that Hall had recorded a song for his wife for the occasion. Collins said the song was titled something like Candle in the Rain.
During his cross-examination, Romines noted that Steven Hall's eyeglasses were knocked off during the struggle with his wife. And he told reporters later that Hall's eyesight is "terrible," suggesting that as supporting evidence that the boat's hitting Isabel Hall was an accident.
Collins said Hall told several versions of his story.
Romines said Hall was truthful in his account to police but that detectives chose to ignore everything except Hall's claim that it was an accident.
"I can't say that I ignored it," Collins said. Rather, he said, police weighed the "totality" of the information available to them and prosecutors to make the murder charge.
Judge Dotson set a $2 million bond for Hall, who remains in the Boyle County jail. Dotson said he would be willing to reconsider bond at a later date.