ELIZABETHTON — Ricky Harris, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 1988 in the death of Dolly Gouge, has filed a motion in Carter County Criminal Court for post-conviction relief.
Harris bases his motion on statements recently made by William N. Ragle, who was a defense witness in the 1988 trial. Ragle contacted Harris on Dec. 23 with information Harris claims was not available during the trial. Ragle presented Harris with an affidavit of his statements on April 29.
Ragle made two key points in his affidavit. Ragle said he and his mother were waiting outside the courtroom before the start of the trial when an unnamed woman who knew his mother and had been selected for the jury sat down with them and told her Harris was guilty. Ragle said his mother told the woman to get away because they were witnesses for Harris.
Ragle said he also overhead Fred Hopson, Gouge’s brother-in-law, tell state witness Artie Hyder to stick to his story and they would take good care of him.
In his petition, filed on June 23, Harris said the actions of the juror met key requirements of the Hines vs. Tennessee case in that a juror was separated from the rest of the jurors without officer supervision, the juror discussed the case and the juror stated an opinion of guilt on the first day of trial and by the mere fact the juror was unsupervised.
Harris argued that in order to correct the violation a new trial must be granted.
Harris argued that Ragle’s statement also showed a clear case of witness tampering involving Hyder. Harris said such witness tampering is illegal and violated his constitutional right to due process. He said such a violation demands a new trial.
The state’s response to Harris’ petition was filed Tuesday by Assistant District Attorney General Ken Baldwin. He said the petition failed to say why the admissibility of the newly discovered evidence may have resulted in a different judgment had the evidence been presented at the trial.
Baldwin said Ragle’s first assertion involves an unidentified woman who was said to be a member of the jury pool. He said the assertion did not state whether the woman was actually selected to serve as a member of the jury. He said the assertion was not any type of new evidence that would have been admissible at trial and no assertion the woman actually served on the jury.
Baldwin said the second assertion, that witness tampering had occurred, also was something that if considered by the jury would not have resulted in a different verdict.
Baldwin also questioned why Ragle waited 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.