FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Thursday heard arguments about whether Shane Ragland should be excused from paying $63.3 million to the family of Trent DiGiuro, whom Ragland was convicted of killing.
Attorneys Thomas Conway and David Broderick spent about an hour making oral arguments before Senior Judge William Harris and supporting judges Christopher Shea Nickell and Glenn Acree.
DiGiuro, a University of Kentucky football player, was killed in Lexington in 1994. 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.
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The DiGiuro family filed a wrongful death lawsuit and in 2008 won the $63.3 million verdict — $60 million in punitive damages and $3.3 million in lost wages.
Broderick, Ragland's attorney, argued that Ragland shouldn't be forced to pay the money because, he said, the DiGiuros' claim was submitted after the statute of limitations on wrongful death cases — one year — had expired.
He also said the $60 million was too high in comparison to compensatory damages of $3.3 million, saying the 18-to-1 ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages was higher than what the law allows.
Broderick cited several rulings in recent years to show that punitive damages should be within a single-digit ratio to compensatory damages.
Acree told Broderick he had reviewed the cases Broderick mentioned and did not find that the Supreme Court said punitive damages could not exceed single-digit ratios to compensatory damages, but that the court ruled such amounts were to be reserved for rare occasions.
Conway, representing the DiGiuros, told the judges that the "reprehensibility" of the crime was made clear to the jury, and it decided the amount of $63.3 million based on evidence heard at trial — including testimony from Ragland, during which he admitted he killed DiGiuro.
"This is the most hideous crime I've seen in my 42 years in court," Conway said. "He (Ragland) laid in wait, less than 75 yards away, and he told someone he was going to do it two years before ... he got his varmint rifle, and he shot him.
"The court listened to all this evidence and on the nature of that, gave us a punitive amount 17 times higher."
Conway also urged the judges to look at Ragland's lack of participation in the retrials. Ragland was not in the courtroom Thursday.
"And you could bet your bottom dollar he won't show up at this trial," Conway said.
After both sides finished their statements, Harris said he would confer with Nickell and Acree, and they would issue a decision "as quickly as we can."
Trent DiGiuro's parents, Mike and Ann DiGiuro, attended the hearing.
Mike DiGiuro said they would keep fighting for their son as long as they have to. The family estimates there have been some 50 hearings in the case.
"The next step will be the Kentucky Supreme Court," Mike DiGiuro said. "Whoever loses will take it there, whether that's them or us," he said after the hearing. "I don't see it being over for two or three more years. But it's been 16 so far, so a couple more won't matter."