Judge: Convicted murderer's request for new trial 'complete waste of time'

John Thompson • Feb 8, 2012 at 12:24 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Convicted murderer Ricky Harris’ bid for a new trial in the death of Dolly Gouge turned out to be a dud on Tuesday when Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood reacted to two hours of testimony by saying, “This was the biggest waste of time.”

Harris’ sole reason for a new trial in the 23-year-old case was a contention by William N. Ragle that a juror was walking in the corridor by herself on the day he testified. Ragle claimed the juror was a friend of his mother’s and she told them the jury was going to hang Harris.

After hearing Ragle’s account of the unsequestered juror and another of his accounts of influencing a witness, Blackwood also heard many other stories from Ragle while Assistant District Attorney General Ken Baldwin asked the witness about his background.

Baldwin got Ragle to tell the court that he was a musician who turned down a $5 million recording contract because the recording company refused to send half the money to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

“I said forget the whole thing, I cared more about those children than I did myself.”

Blackwood asked why he didn’t just take the $5 million and give half to St. Jude’s. Ragle answered that he was a drunk during that time, hanging around with musicians George Jones and Johnny Paycheck and “the money would have been gone in a heartbeat.”

Baldwin also got Ragle to say he once worked as a “narc” for the FBI. “I could get into places,” Ragle said.

Among the other claims Baldwin got Ragle to make on the witness stand was that he was a master gun handler who had the copyright to the manual used by U.S. Special Forces to teach team members how to shoot.

He also said he once worked for the retired head of the Mafia in Cleveland.

At the end of the hearing, Blackwood said “I think we have been entertained and enjoyed quite a bit of comedy.” He went on to say he wanted to be charitable to Ragle, who was frail and testified in a wheelchair. Despite his desire to be charitable, he said he found Ragle “has absolutely no credibility whatsoever.” He called Ragle’s testimony “sheer fantasy.”

One of the most damaging parts of Ragle’s testimony that was germane to the case was his claim that the juror had been alone and told him and his mother the jury had already decided Harris would hang.

Ragle could not say who the juror was. Later in the testimony, Blackwood went back to the point and asked Ragle if he had seen the woman in the jury box when he testified. Ragle said he did not look at the jury.

Blackwood said Ragle didn’t know whether the woman was a juror or not if he did not look at the jury.

All of the jurors from the case had been subpoenaed and five testified that they had been closely guarded by the bailiffs during the trial and never went anywhere alone.

Ragle had also said he had been a witness for the defense in the trial because he had seen a man up close on the day of Gouge’s murder and that man was not Harris.

He testified he called and volunteered to be a witness about the man he had seen and disputed he was Harris, as several witnesses for the prosecution had claimed.

Ragle claimed the defense team of Jim Bowman and Penny White agreed to put him on as a witness without ever asking him to go over what he was going to testify about.

Both Bowman and White took the witness stand to say they would never put on a witness under those conditions. Neither had clear recollections of pretrial questioning of Ragle, but both said it would never happen because they needed to know how his testimony would fit in with the case.

Bowman and White said they would immediately have reported any violation of jury sequestration if it had been brought to their attention. Neither brought the issue up during the trial or in motions for a new trial.

White said any statements made by a juror that Harris was guilty would have been a key piece of evidence in her contention that the case should be tried in another county.

Recommended for You

    Johnson City Press Videos