Defense witness: Drugs could have impaired doctor's wife as she swam

Steven Hall
Steven Hall

DANVILLE — The concentration of drugs in Isabel Hall's system could have impaired her as she swam and was struck by a pontoon boat piloted by her husband, an expert witness testified Monday in the murder trial of Dr. Steven Hall.

Hall, 48, a Harrodsburg physician, is accused of murder in the 2009 death of Isabel, 49, after she was struck by the pontoon on Herrington Lake. Dr. Hall has said it was an accident.

The prosecution rested, and the defense began presentation of its case Monday. It's possible testimony of the final defense witnesses could finish on Tuesday.

Isabel Hall was susceptible to panic attacks, and the concentrations of drugs in her bloodstream could have exacerbated those episodes; could have increased her aggressiveness, hostility and anxiety; and could have caused her to become disoriented, Dr. Thomas Tobin testified.

Tobin's testimony supports the defense argument that drugs in her system might have led Isabel Hall to react inappropriately to a perceived threat. Prosecution testimony indicated that the Halls struggled on the boat, that Dr. Hall pushed Isabel Hall into the water and that she screamed as she swam in front of the boat.

Tobin's testimony also supports the defense argument that Isabel Hall swam into the path of the pontoon before she was struck by the boat's right front.

Tobin, a toxicology professor at the University of Kentucky, said concentrations of narcotic painkillers hydrocodone and Tramadol in her blood greatly exceeded recommended therapeutic levels.

Her system also contained the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine, the antidepressant duloxetine, Ritalin and three antihistamines.

Defense attorney Greg Simms asked Tobin whether the level of drugs could have impaired a person "to the point they would swim in front of a moving boat?"

"I would think so, absolutely," Tobin said.

Commonwealth's Attorney Richie Bottoms sought to punch holes in the defense argument by eliciting from defense witnesses that Isabel Hall was talking, walking, fully functional and by all accounts having a normal day.

Isabel Hall's physician, Dr. Brian Ellis, said she appeared to be "doing very well" on the morning of the day she died. The Halls drove to the family practitioner's office in Danville before going to the lake to celebrate their 21st wedding anniversary.

"She looked great," Ellis testified under cross-examination by Bottoms. "I thought she was very normal-acting."

Tobin told Bottoms on cross-examination that Isabel Hall might have developed a tolerance to drugs because she had taken them over a period of time. Even so, Tobin testified that Isabel Hall wasn't functioning as "she could have or should have" and that she was functioning at a "considerably less than optimal" level.

Other defense witnesses called Monday included the Halls' 15-year-old son, Matthew, who testified his father is "the best dad I could ask for."

Matthew also testified his parents "never raised their voice at each other."

"They'd talk about stuff but never argued," he said.

Another defense witness was Glenda Obermayer, who said she considered Isabel Hall her best friend. Obermayer's daughter was home-schooled with the Halls' two sons by the Halls and Obermayer.

Defense attorney Steve Romines asked Obermayer whether she ever saw the Halls argue, fight or raise their voices toward one another.

Obermayer answered no to all three questions.

Boyle County Coroner Dr. James Ramey also testified that, after the incident on the lake, Dr. Hall "seemed in a daze" and "not aware of the seriousness of the situation."

Dr. Clifford Brooks, a professor at Indiana University's School of Optometry, testified about Dr. Hall's poor eyesight. Brooks did not personally examine Hall but reviewed records about his vision. Dr. Hall's eyeglasses came off during the struggle with his wife, and that could have impaired his sight.

The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday before Boyle Circuit Court Judge Darren Peckler.

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