Kentucky v. Shane Ragland

This case involved the death of Trent DiGiuro, an O line starter on the University of Kentucky football team.  While sitting on the porch of his athletic frat house on the evening of 17 July, 1994, a bullet gained entry on the left side of his head.  The bullet did not exit but basically destroyed his brain.  The expected arterial blood spurts did follow, increasing the mental trauma on the part of witnesses and, later, the entire university and city.

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This photograph shows the overturned chair and porch where Trent DiGiuro received his fatal head wound.  Note the copious blood flow and the large quantity of paper towels used in a near futile attempt to clean up the post-impact arterial blood flow.  This caused stress within the community and intense prejudice against the accused.

 

[A photograph of Mr. DiGiuro is not included, in order to preserve his dignity.  However, his body did not exhibit the damage; bullet exit, bruised eyelids, bulging eyeballs; which one would expect from the impact of a 100 grain bullet at a translational velocity of some 2,800 plus feet per second and having some 1,700 foot pounds of kinetic energy.)

Some 6 years later, based on a tip from a dis-gruntled girlfriend, police raided a home, seized a rifle, and arrested one Shane Layton Ragland; charging him with the murder of Trent DiGiuro.  The city of Lexington, KY, was aflame; somebody was finally going to pay for the murder of their football player.

The defense attorney, Mr. J. Guthrie True; of Johnson, Judy, True and Guarinieri; was excellent but he had an uphill battle.  Motions for change of venue were repeatedly denied, despite the very public witch hunt.  The evidence was all circumstantial, but Mr. True excelled in discovery.

This photograph is of a recovered bullet in this case.  Note that the expansion deformation makes mounting of the sample in a microscope extremely problematic.  Also, the deformation negates the possibility of using a high enough magnification (with its extremely short focal length, requiring the lens to be closed than four hundredths of an inch) to detect individual striations on the bullet of less than .001 inches, smaller than one/fifth the thickness of the paper on which this is printed.

This photograph is of a recovered bullet in this case.  Note that the expansion deformation makes mounting of the sample in a microscope extremely problematic.  Also, the deformation negates the possibility of using a high enough magnification (with its extremely short focal length, requiring the lens to be closed than four hundredths of an inch) to detect individual striations on the bullet of less than .001 inches, smaller than one/fifth the thickness of the paper on which this is printed.

 

At that point, I came on the case.  In working with Mr. True, we uncovered glaring issues.  The match in so-called ballistic fingerprinting was only a partial of one groove (out of six test bullets fired) and that could not be duplicated or even recorded on film.  The prosecution claim of only 1,418 rifles in existence that could have fired that bullet were deliberately mis-leading. In fact over 60,000 rifles were in the USA with 4 groove rifling of the appropriate diameter.

The prosecution investigation was amateur at best.  It took a Court Order for Mr. True to gain “permission” for me to visit the prosecution laboratory.  I found that their lab expert had no applicable degree or formal training.  His microscope was originally for cattle sample typing (read bull semen), and could not make a photographic record.  I could go further but it serves no purpose here.

I was thoroughly examined the evening before the jury would hear my testimony.  The Judge severely limited what I could say and most of my photographic and visual aids were excluded.  My testimony was largely of the “My opinion is…” variety with no scholarly back up or explanation.

The defendant was convicted and sentenced to 30 years.  Appeals were started and a new trial was ordered.  Prodefendant feeling gained momentum when a national investigative TV show took interest in the paucity of solid circumstantial evidence.  The prosecution did not want to risk a second trial and the defendant pled to lesser charges and time already served (year 2007).

The legacy of this case is very important for two reasons; beyond the obvious that you need a good, team player, defense attorney like Guthrie True.

This photograph is a time lapse through a duplicate telescopic sight as the defendant’s.  Taken on a night with duplicate moon data, duplicate cloud cover and duplicate other factors.  One can barely see the reticule (crosshairs) and the fellow in the chair.  Of course, one problem is that the “fellow” in the chair is actually an oversized stuffed Teddy Bear who the Judge did not allow to testify at trial.  Theodore was very upset.

This photograph is a time lapse through a duplicate telescopic sight as the defendant’s.  Taken on a night with duplicate moon data, duplicate cloud cover and duplicate other factors.  One can barely see the reticule (crosshairs) and the fellow in the chair.  Of course, one problem is that the “fellow” in the chair is actually an oversized stuffed Teddy Bear who the Judge did not allow to testify at trial.  Theodore was very upset.

 

First, prosecutors will stop at nothing to gain a conviction.   The defense must refuse to take “evidence” for granted or at face value.  The defense must demand the CV of all “experts” and police testifying for the prosecution; must demand the original lab notes, lab requests, photographs, lists of equipment used, and so forth; and must refuse to accept a prosecution conclusion without a vigorous examination of their “facts” and methodology.

Second, the FBI came in (comments later on Title 5, CFR, and the great beltway money machine) and testified about matches in their “Comparative Bullet Lead Alloy Analysis Test”.  Mr. True and, myself, with the help of a chemist, were able to savage the FBI so severely that their lab tech pled guilty to misdemeanor perjury (and got 4 months). Since then, the National Academy of Science rendered a tepid opinion of CBLAAT and the FBI formally abandoned all such testimony and support of local law enforcement as “junk” science.

 

This photograph was taken with a borescope (read colonoscope for rifles) inside the defendant’s rifle barrel.  Note the large quantities of bullet jacket fouling left within the bore, one of many facts which tends to negate the “science” of “ballistic fingerprinting”.

This photograph was taken with a borescope (read colonoscope for rifles) inside the defendant’s rifle barrel.  Note the large quantities of bullet jacket fouling left within the bore, one of many facts which tends to negate the “science” of “ballistic fingerprinting”.