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Ex-deputy arrested in ex-sheriff's death

A Harlan County drug detective turned dirty and took part in murdering a candidate for sheriff, a grand jury has charged.

Roger D. Hall, 41, of Benham is charged with complicity to murder Paul L. Browning Jr. in March 2002 and with complicity to sell drugs, according to Kentucky State Police.

State police Detective Michael H. Cornett arrested Hall on Monday at the car dealership in Harlan where he worked as service manager.

Browning's son, Paul L. Browning III, a salesman at the same car dealership, was in the parking lot as police took away the suspect in his father's murder.

"He just wanted to see him come out in cuffs and go in the back of a police car," Cornett said.

Hall was being held in the Harlan County jail Monday night on $1 million cash bond.

Henry S. Johnson, the commonwealth's attorney for Harlan County, said he hadn't decided whether to seek the death penalty. He said he couldn't comment further because of rules concerning pretrial publicity.

State police said the investigation in the case is continuing. "I'll go wherever the information leads," Cornett said.

The arrest comes more than six years after Browning was murdered, but the roots of the story stretch back more than 25 years.

The charismatic Browning was elected sheriff of Harlan County in 1981 but was charged not long after with plotting to kill political enemies. He denied the charges, but he was convicted and stripped of his office.

In 2002, with his right to hold office restored, Browning, 57, was campaigning against incumbent Sheriff Steve Duff to win back the office. He was murdered in March 2002, two months before the election.

The crime grew out of police corruption, one key witness testified at a trial earlier this year.

Dewayne Harris, once a major drug dealer in Harlan County, said that by 2002, he was paying Hall up to $3,000 a week for information on drug informants and for helping transport drugs. Hall was a narcotics detective at that time.

Harris also gave Browning money. Harris secretly videotaped a meeting in which he gave Browning a wad of cash during the campaign; Browning said on the tape that if he won he would protect some drug dealers.

Harris said Hall was concerned that Browning would win the sheriff's race and fire him. Hall decided he wanted Browning dead, Harris testified.

Harris said his uncle, an out-of-work alcoholic, volunteered to kill Browning after overhearing him discussing the crime with Hall. Hall supplied a gun and bullets to shoot Browning and paid Raymond Harris $1,000, Dewayne Harris said.

Raymond Harris shot Browning in the head, and then he and Johnny Epperson, a cocaine addict who helped Dewayne Harris sell drugs, burned his body inside his Toyota pickup truck at a secluded spot in Bell County, according to trial testimony.

Dewayne Harris gave police information about the Browning case after he was arrested in an unrelated federal drug case in March 2003.

He testified against his uncle, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole for at least 25 years.

Hall refused to testify at that trial.

The grand jury charged that Hall was dirty for some time before Browning was killed. The indictment said he conspired with Harris to take payoffs between January 2001 and January 2004, state police said.

Hall has not been a deputy since late 2003. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to agreeing to hide assets for Edna Harris, Dewayne Harris' wife, while she was in prison.

He also admitted lying to the FBI about having a relationship with her. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Harris and Epperson have pleaded guilty in connection with Browning's slaying. Harris received a 30-year sentence, which is running concurrent with his sentence on federal drug charges.

He isn't scheduled to be released from federal prison until 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Web site.

Epperson received a 20-year sentence for his part in Browning's murder.