Fayette County’s longtime chief prosecutor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson, announced Thursday that he is retiring and will leave office at the end of the month. His last day will be Sept. 30.
Larson’s elected term doesn’t end until Dec. 30, 2018, according to the Fayette County Clerk’s office.
“My health is good,” Larson told the Herald-Leader, “It’s just that the time’s right.”
In nearly 32 years as chief prosecutor, Larson said he has been guided by three principles: “Every person should be treated fairly and the same under the same facts; every person should be held responsible for their conduct; and every person should suffer consequences for violating our laws.”
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At the same time, Larson said, he has tried to keep politics out of the office.
“No prosecutorial decision should ever be based on political motives,” Larson said in a statement. “The safety of the public is one of the primary responsibilities of any government, and we at the Fayette commonwealth’s attorney’s office have endeavored to do all that we could to carry out that responsibility and ensure better treatment of crime victims by our court system.”
“I’m 73 years old,” Larson said in an interview. “I have never wanted to be the old guy that hung on too long. I’ve always promised myself I wouldn’t. I just decided when I became 73 that I was probably approaching the old guy that stayed on too long. I’ve still got the energy. I’ve still got the desire. I also have somebody in this office that I hope the governor will recognize as talented and capable of making this office even better and that’s Lou Anna Red Corn.”
Lou Anna Red Corn is Larson’s first assistant commonwealth’s attorney. “She’s strong and thoughtful and clearly not as belligerent as I am,” Larson said.
Gov. Matt Bevin will appoint Larson’s successor, Larson said.
“Ray Larson has dedicated his entire life to public service and protecting the citizens of Kentucky,” Bevin said in a statement. “He is a true public servant and model prosecutor. I thank him for his service to the Commonwealth and look forward to appointing a highly qualified successor.”
Jessica Ditto, Bevin’s communications director, said, “We do expect the governor to appoint a replacement soon — before September 30.”
“The knowledge of his commitment to public safety is of great comfort to me as I leave this office,” Larson said, speaking of Bevin. “He’s on the ball when it comes to public safety. I feel very comfortable that he’s interested in us having a good office.”
Larson has been the Fayette County commonwealth’s attorney since Jan. 2, 1985. He was appointed to that office by Gov. Martha Layne Collins and has been elected for five six-year terms since.
As the felony prosecutor for Fayette County, Larson supervises an office of 30 employees — 18 prosecutors, five victim advocates and a small support staff. The office prosecutes more than 1,500 multiple count felony indictments each year.
Larson was born in Yakima, Wash. His father, Col. Robert Larson, was a career Air Force officer, and his family was stationed at military bases around the world.
“My dad always taught me that if you break the rules, be prepared to suffer consequences. I believed that then and I still believe it and that’s what we try to do,” Larson said. “We do pretty good around here being consistent, dealing with people the same. ...That’s very important. A prosecutor has to be predictable. And we have been.”
He attended the University of Kentucky for both his undergraduate and law degrees. He is married to Betty H. Larson, who taught elementary school for 42 years, and they have a son, daughter-in-law, two grandsons and one granddaughter.
He was appointed as Paducah city court prosecutor in 1972. After that, his website said, he decided to devote his career to criminal prosecution. From 1974 until he was appointed commonwealth’s attorney, he was an assistant deputy attorney general.
Larson told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday that a year after he became commonwealth’s attorney, Lexington had 26 homicides, a record number for that time.
One of those was Michael Turpin, who was stabbed to death in 1986 after his wife of less than six months, Elizabeth Zehnder Turpin, plotted to have him killed for $60,000 in life insurance. She, Karen Brown and Keith Bouchard received life sentences.
Larson also mentioned defendants LaFonda Fay Foster and Tina Marie Hickey Powell.
LaFonda Fay Foster is serving a sentence of life in prison without parole. Powell also is serving a life sentence and will next be eligible for parole in 2021.
The women were convicted of a string of murders in which three men and two women were killed on April 23, 1986. The case, which inspired a film, 100 Proof, gained national attention because of the variety of ways in which the victims died. Police said they had been stabbed, shot and run over with a car. The women left one person pinned under a vehicle, then set the vehicle afire.
Russ Baldani, Foster’s attorney, has been practicing in Fayette Circuit Court since 1985.
“I have been going up against Ray Larson and his staff for over 30 years,” Baldani said. “We have not always seen eye to eye. But he has always treated me professionally and with respect. He is consummately prepared when you go up against him.”
Larson “will point his finger at a defendant,” Baldani said, “and glare.”
“He seems to be what jurors expect and want a prosecutor to be,” Baldani said.
Talking about his most high-profile cases, Larson mentioned the 1986 murder of Columbia Steak House manager Stafford Clay Nelson, the 2011 murder of Lexington physician Martha Post and the1994 slaying of Trent DiGiuro, a University of Kentucky football player. Shane Ragland admitted to fatally shooting DiGiuro at a rental house on Woodland Avenue while DiGiuro was celebrating his 21st birthday.
Ragland was convicted of murder in 2002, but the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned the verdict in 2006. In a plea deal in 2007, Ragland pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to time served in prison plus three days of home incarceration.
“Shane Ragland’s case was a disappointment to me,” Larson said. “He was basically assassinated, Trent DiGiuro. We tried it, convicted him and he was sentenced to 35 years and that was reversed. I violently disagreed with the opinion of the Supreme Court on that one. And then he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.”
Of announcing his retirement, Larson said, “It’s kind of a bittersweet day. Because dealing with crime victims and trying to have people be responsible for their behavior is something that’s important to me.”
Larson was named Kentucky’s outstanding prosecutor four times. In 1992, Larson was recognized by President George H.W. Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House for having one of the most outstanding Victim Service Organizations in America.
“I want to thank Ray Larson for his years of service and for his resolve and dedication to seek justice for victims of crime throughout his esteemed career,” Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said in a statement. “I was proud to present Ray with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent Kentucky Prosecutors Conference in Louisville.”
“We commend him on his 30-plus years of dedicated service to the citizens of Fayette County as our chief prosecutor,” said Vice Chief Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela R. Goodwine. “We all wish him the very best in the next chapter of his life.”
“I’m not going to get out of the crime-fighting business,” Larson said, declining to give specifics. “I intend to be involved in a number of things just as a civilian. I’ll be busy.”
He said the first thing he would do “is to try to sleep until 8:30 in the morning.”
Larson said he would continue to appear on the WVLK-AM 590 radio show called “True Crime” with host Jack Pattie.
“He calls himself Ray the DA,” Pattie said Thursday. From 9 to 10 a.m. every Friday, the two discuss local and national crime cases and have prosecutors on the show.
“It’s the most popular thing I’ve got on the air,” Pattie said. “I get more comments about that one hour on Friday morning than anything else I do.”
Larson on Thursday joked that he always said that he would retire “when I catch them all.”
“I guess I probably ought to officially announce that we have caught them all, every one of them. Some of them six or seven times.”