Convict in 1988 Carter Co. murder seeking new trial

John Thompson • Feb 6, 2012 at 10:38 PM

ELIZABETHTON — A man who was convicted of first-degree murder 23 years ago will be back in Carter County Criminal Court today to ask Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood for a new trial.

Ricky Harris was convicted in 1988 in the death of his mother-in-law, Dolly Gouge. Harris bases his motion for a new trial on recent statements made by William N. Ragle, who was a witness for the defense in the 1988 trial. Ragle contacted Harris on Dec. 23, 2010, with information that Harris’ attorney claims was not available during the trial.

Ragle claims he saw a juror separated from the rest of the jurors and without officer supervision when Ragle was in the hallway before the start of the trial. Ragle also claims the juror made a statement on the guilt of Harris. Ragle also claims he heard a witness was told to stick to his story and he would “take good care of him.”

Harris said in his petition that the actions of the juror met key requirements of the Hines vs. Tennessee case and a new trial must be granted in order to correct the violation.

In his response to Harris’ motion, Assistant District Attorney Ken Baldwin questioned the validity of Ragle’s assertions and wondered why Ragle would wait until 23 years after the trial to discuss the problems when he could have discussed them with Harris’ attorney, Penny White, during the trial.

“Regardless of the credibility of Mr. William Ragle, there is no newly discovered factual evidence asserted and no explanation as to how or why any of these assertions, if they were considered by a jury, may have resulted in a different verdict,” Baldwin said in his response.

Although it happened more than two decades ago, the murder of Dolly Gouge and the long search before her body was found remains fresh in the minds of many Carter Countians. Gouge was well known because she was employed as a waitress in a popular restaurant in town and was very well known as a gracious and hard working woman.

The communal memory of her murder has continued to be stirred over the years by the frequent motions for post conviction relief filled by Harris. In 2008, a chance that Harris could be paroled galvanized many in the community to circulate a petition opposing his release from the life sentence. The petition gathered over 8,500 signatures.

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