Kentucky

Witnesses describe circumstances of doctor's wife's death

Dr. Steven Hall, left, conferred with his attorney Steven Romines after the conclusion of testimony Friday in Boyle Circuit Court, where Hall is being tried on a murder charge.
Dr. Steven Hall, left, conferred with his attorney Steven Romines after the conclusion of testimony Friday in Boyle Circuit Court, where Hall is being tried on a murder charge.

DANVILLE — Dr. Steven Hall told four witnesses who heard a woman's screams that nothing was wrong immediately after he struck his wife with a pontoon boat, a jury heard Friday in the Harrodsburg physician's murder trial.

"Mr. Hall was standing on the front of the boat," said Danny Merriman, one of four Illinois residents on a rental pontoon boat that pulled up beside the Hall boat. "He waved and smiled like everybody else does."

Someone from the Merriman group asked Hall, "Is everything OK?"

"He said, 'Everything is fine,'" Merriman testified.

Hall, 48, is accused of murder in the death of his wife, Isabel Hall, 49. He has maintained her death was the result of an accident.

On May 29, 2009, Merriman, Tara Silbersdorf, Kenny Bradshaw and April Bhullar, all of Illinois, were vacationing at Gwinn Island and had rented a pontoon boat to take onto Herrington Lake.

Shortly after they had anchored their boat, they heard a woman screaming as she swam in front of another pontoon boat several hundred feet away.

Silbersdorf testified that the woman was screaming, "Help me! Please help me! He's going to kill me!"

Initially she and the others didn't know whether the woman was serious. But as the screams continued, Merriman said, it appeared that the woman was "moving toward us."

"So she appeared to be calling to you?" Commonwealth's Attorney Richie Bottoms asked.

"Yes," Merriman said.

The next thing they knew, the Hall boat "took off like it was thrown in gear — all the way up, full throttle," Merriman said. The screaming ended.

The Merriman group pulled up anchor and motored their boat across the water to pull up to the Hall boat.

"I asked 'Where is that lady that was screaming?'" Bhullar testified. "And he (Hall) said, 'She's under the boat.'"

At one point, Steven Hall "got down on his hands and knees and tapped the water (with his hand) and said, 'Come on out, honey,'" Merriman said.

From their vantage point, the people in the Merriman group could see scratch marks on Hall's back. Hall later admitted to Kentucky State Police that he and his wife had struggled and that he had pushed her into the water.

The people on the Merriman boat said they saw a woman floating face down in the water beneath the Halls' pontoon boat.

"She was just floating under there, inactive," Bradshaw testified. "Not moving at all."

Silbersdorf and Bhullar called 911 from their cell phones, and Bhullar told Merriman to pull away from the Halls' boat because she feared Steven Hall might have a gun.

Steven Hall did jump into the water to attempt to retrieve his wife's body, but he appeared to have trouble lifting her back onto the boat.

"He grabbed her hair and said, 'Can you give me a hand here?'" Bhullar testified.

Silbersdorf testified that she saw Hall lift his dead wife's limp hand and "waved it at us." Defense attorney Steve Romines questioned that observation, noting that Silbersdorf was the only person to mention seeing that.

"It's not my intention to purposely make up something," Silbersdorf said.

Eventually, Hall tied his wife's body to the boat so it wouldn't sink, Merriman testified.

Silbersdorf and Romines had a testy exchange during his cross-examination of her.

"Sir, this has been a very hard experience for me," Silbersdorf said. She became tearful and dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

Romines, pointing at Steven Hall sitting at the defense table, said: "How do you think it has been for that man?"

Later, Romines noted that Silbersdorf and the others did not help Hall lift his wife out of the water.

"Did you ever go help him?" Romines asked.

"Don't put the blame on me," Silbersdorf answered. "I already feel bad enough."

Again, Romines asked, "Did you ever go help him?"

"No, I did not," she answered.

Before leaving the courtroom, Silbersdorf apologized to the Hall family in the gallery, then directed some parting words to Romines.

"You should feel ashamed," she said.

The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. Monday in Boyle Circuit Court before Judge Darren Peckler. The prosecution is close to resting its case, and the defense will soon present its case. Romines said it will take two or three days to present the defense.

He said no decision has been made on whether Steven Hall will testify.

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