Investigator takes stand in Harrodsburg doctor's murder trial

DANVILLE — A detective who investigated the case of a Harrodsburg doctor accused of killing his wife was aggressively cross-examined Wednesday by the defense.

Defense attorney Steve Romines questioned Kentucky State Police Detective Chris Short about his investigation of Steven Hall, 48, who is accused of murder for striking his wife, Isabel, 49, with a pontoon boat on Herrington Lake in May 2009.

Romines has painted the police investigation as inept. In his opening statement and in cross-examinations, he has said police tried to find facts that would support their conclusion that Hall murdered his wife, while ignoring evidence that supported Hall's claim that it was an accident.

Short took issue with that characterization.

"If I found something to prove his innocence, I would be the first" to bring it up, Short said.

Commonwealth's Attorney Richie Bottoms has referred to more than 30 recorded police interviews with various witnesses, including a two-hour interview that another state police detective conducted with Hall on the day of his wife's death.

Nevertheless, a spontaneous, self-incriminating statement that Hall gave that same day to Short at the Boyle County Courthouse was not recorded, although Short acknowledged that he had a tape recorder in his car.

"You didn't bother to go out and get one?" Romines asked.

"I did not get my recorder," Short said. "I did not ask him to repeat the statement and record it."

Short said Hall told him, "I need to apologize to you. I want to apologize for lying."

Hall proceeded to say he and his wife had fought, he had pushed her into the water, he accelerated the boat toward his wife "to scare her," but accidentally struck her, Short said in direct examination by Bottoms.

Short said Boyle County Deputy Sheriff Chris Stratton also heard the spontaneous statement and included it in a written report. Short said he also put the statement in his written report.

"I tried to write down what he told me to the best of what I could remember," Short said.

Romines also found examples in which the testimony Short gave to a grand jury did not match what witnesses had told him.

For example, Short told a grand jury an inmate at a state prison property that borders Herrington Lake had seen a "man pulling up a woman by the hair of the head" from the water onto a boat.

But in a written statement, the inmate said "the guy pulled the woman up."

The inmate "never said anything about the hair of the head, did he?" Romines asked.

"No, sir, he did not," Short said.

"But it sure sounds bad, doesn't it?' Romines asked.

"Yes, sir," Short said.

Later, Bottoms objected as Romines continued to find discrepancies between witness accounts and what Short told the grand jury about witness accounts. That led to a heated sidebar between Circuit Judge Darren Peckler and the attorneys for both sides.

Romines focused on other contradictions in statements between witnesses and what witnesses told police and what Short said those witnesses saw.

And, Romines asked, had Short asked any of the Illinois residents who had seen the Hall boat from another part of the lake — and who gave statements to police — whether they had been drinking on the day of Isabel Hall's death?

"I don't recall asking them," Short said.

"As a detective, would it be important to you whether they had been drinking?" Romines asked later.

"It would be important," Short said. "They didn't seem to be impaired."

The trial is to resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Boyle Circuit Court. Most of the day's testimony is expected to come from Bill Collins, a Kentucky State Police detective who also investigated Isabel Hall's death.

The jury will likely hear a two-hour recorded interview Collins conducted with Steven Hall.

In another development, defense and prosecution attorneys confirmed Wednesday that Dateline NBC had contacted their offices to express interest in doing a story about the Hall case.

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