Crime

Harrodsburg doctor's murder trial to start next week

Steven Hall
Steven Hall

DANVILLE — The trial of a Harrodsburg doctor charged with murder in the death of his wife will begin as scheduled next week, despite a defense expert's testimony Thursday that the case should be moved.

Dr. Steven C. Hall is accused of striking Isabel Hall with a pontoon boat on Herrington Lake on May 29, 2009. He has told police it was an accident.

During a 90-minute hearing Thursday in Boyle Circuit Court, attorneys for the defense and prosecution discussed whether Hall's alleged relationship with another woman was such that it was a motive for him to kill his wife.

Defense attorney Steve Romines argued there was no affair, but Commonwealth's Attorney Richie Bottoms said he wants a jury to hear testimony about the relationship.

Jury selection will start Monday in the trial, scheduled to last seven days. Although Hall lived in Harrodsburg, the trial will be in Danville because the death occurred in Boyle County.

Most of Thursday's hearing was devoted to questioning about a telephone survey of 400 Boyle County residents. Centre College psychology professor Mykol Hamilton testified that the majority of respondents said they think Hall is guilty of killing his wife or they are leaning toward his guilt.

"My conclusion is it would be impossible for the court to seat an unbiased jury," Hamilton said.

Bottoms argued that there was no need to move the trial until potential jurors are questioned next week.

Boyle Circuit Judge Darren Peckler agreed but said he would wait to make a decision on a change of venue after seeing how jury selection goes Monday.

The discussion about an alleged relationship with another woman had not been made in open court until Thursday's hearing. The only previous mention of another woman came during a preliminary hearing in June 2009, when a Kentucky State Police detective testified that Hall, while taking an anniversary cruise on the lake with his wife, made an "off-color" comment about another woman's breasts.

The couple 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 he drove the boat toward his wife to try to scare her but struck her instead.

Thursday's revelation about a possible affair came during discussion of a defense motion that asked prosecutors to choose whether Hall acted intentionally or wantonly in the death of his wife. The defendant's mental state is an element of the offense.

A person is guilty of murder when he intentionally causes the death of a person or wantonly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death and causes the death of another person.

Romines argued that Kentucky State Police "completely ignored" that Isabel Hall's death might have been an accident. Romines alleges that police came up with "the other woman" scenario to bolster their theory that Hall intentionally caused the death of his wife.

"The police, an hour and a half after arriving, made up their mind that Dr. Hall committed this murder," Romines said after Thursday's hearing. "They had to come up with a motive, and they created this — whatever they want to call it, 'relationship' — out of thin air after they charged him."

Bottoms said after the hearing that "there will be proof in the case that there was at least a relationship of some type with another individual, which may or may not play into a motive or intent."

To prove intent, there must be a motive, Bottoms said. "We expect the other person involved in the relationship to testify," Bottoms said, and that testimony "could shed light on ... motive."

Bottoms said the prosecution is not required by law to pick a theory of the crime.

"We never prepare the (jury) instructions ... until we see what the evidence has presented," Bottoms said. "Once the full case is presented to the jurors, I think they'll make a fair resolution of the case. Once we present the full case, then I believe we'll have the option to proceed under intentional or wanton conduct."

The judge agreed and will allow Bottoms to present his case without committing to a particular theory.

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