Trial of doctor accused of killing wife with boat begins Monday

Steven Hall
Steven Hall

DANVILLE — Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the murder trial of a Harrodsburg doctor accused of running over his wife with a pontoon boat.

Dr. Steven Hall, 48, has pleaded not guilty. Isabel Hall, 49, died last year while the couple were celebrating their 21st anniversary with a boating excursion on Herrington Lake in Boyle County.

Hall says he struck his wife by accident with the boat, but state police say five independent witnesses told them the doctor gunned the pontoon in her direction.

Defense attorney Steve Romines said a decision has not been made on whether Hall will testify.

"I'll make that decision. He wants to, but he's not the lawyer," Romines said Thursday.

If convicted, Hall does not face execution because the death was not committed during the commission of another alleged crime, such as robbery or rape. The penalty for murder is 20 years to life in prison.

Hall rejected a plea offer — the terms of which were not disclosed — in May.

The questioning of potential jurors is expected to take most of Monday, prosecution and defense attorneys said. Some 70 to 80 people will be brought in Monday morning, followed by 49 more, if needed, that afternoon.

The case has received extensive coverage on television and in newspapers. Last week, in an attempt to have the trial moved because of pretrial publicity, the defense submitted a list of more than 200 television broadcasts that have appeared about the case in Lexington and Louisville, plus stories that have appeared in the Danville and Lexington newspapers.

News organizations in Canada also have followed the case. Steven Hall practiced in Nova Scotia and Ontario before moving to Kentucky about 11 years ago. Isabel Hall was a native of Nova Scotia and returned there each summer to visit family.

In previous court testimony, state police said the Halls left Chimney Rock Marina on a pontoon boat about 2 p.m. May 29, 2009. Sometime later, the couple got into an argument after Steven Hall made an "off-color comment" about another woman's breasts, Detective Bill Collins testified last year in a preliminary hearing.

Soon 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.

According to court documents, witnesses told police that Hall put the boat into "full throttle" toward his wife. She suffered deep wounds to her head where a propeller hit her, as well as cuts to her left hand and left forearm.

Romines noted last year that Steven Hall's eyeglasses were knocked off during the struggle with his wife. Romines told reporters at the time that Hall's eyesight is "terrible," suggesting that as supporting evidence that it was an accident.

The prosecution has subpoenaed four Illinois residents who were on a rental pontoon that day and who are expected to testify that they saw a woman in the water screaming.

"She was saying, 'Help me, please help me! He's trying to kill me! God, please help me,'" Dan Merriman of Manteno, Ill., told the Herald-Leader in an interview last year.

The Illinois residents and an inmate at Northpoint Training Center, a Boyle County prison, told police that the boat hitting Isabel Hall "was an intentional act." The inmate, who is now at another prison in Marion County, also has been subpoenaed to testify, according to court records.

The defense will argue that police ignored "anything that didn't support their conclusion" that Hall intentionally killed his wife, Romines said.

Collins, the detective, said last year that police weighed the "totality" of information available to them and prosecutors before filing the murder charge.

Commonwealth's Attorney Richie Bottoms said the prosecution intends to introduce testimony about a "relationship" Steven Hall had with another person, "which may or may not play into a motive or intent."

Hall has remained in jail in lieu of a $2 million bond since his arrest. He agreed with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure last year that he would not practice until a final judgment is entered in the case and a professional panel considers his situation.

The prosecution anticipates taking three days to present its case. The trial is scheduled to go through Aug. 24 before Boyle Circuit Judge Darren Peckler.

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