One of Steve Lee’s fellow inmates at the Greenup County Detention Center on Monday testified Lee confessed to him he had murdered his wife, Leslie “Crickett” Lanham-Lee.
Joe Davis also told jurors Lee had told him he didn’t believe he would ever be convicted of doing so.
“He said, ‘I killed her, but I don’t know how they’re going to prove it because they’ve got no evidence,’” he said.
Lee also said he regretted not killing his wife’s dog, a large boxer named Pandi that was fiercely protective of Lanham-Lee, Davis said. The dog was found in rural Greenup County nearly three weeks after Lanham-Lee’s March, 4, 2011, slaying.
“He (Lee) said he should have killed the dog, too,” he said.
Davis was the final witness in the commonwealth’s case against Lee, who faces 20 years to life in prison if he is convicted in his wife’s stabbing death. The trial resumed on Monday after a four-day hiatus.
Davis, a trusty at the jail, said he and Lee shared a housing pod for approximately a month and half after Lee’s arrest in October of last year. At first, he said, Lee mainly wanted to talk about the mail and telephone privileges at the detention center. After awhile, though, Lee began to open up to him and talked to him on several occasions about the murder case, he said.
He said he never pressed Lee to do so and, in fact, told jurors it made him “uneasy” when Lee would speak about the case.
Under cross-examination by Lee’s attorney, Jonah Stevens of Pikeville, Davis said he hadn’t intended to tell authorities about Lee’s confession, but mentioned it to a deputy jailer believing the two were speaking in confidence. The deputy contacted Greenup County Sheriff’s Department Detective David Bocook, the lead investigator in the case, who came to the jail to speak to Davis about it.
Davis also said he hadn’t been promised or given anything in exchange for his testimony against Lee, and that he had never testified in any other cases regarding what other inmates had told him.
Jurors also heard testimony Monday from a former member of the Pagans, the notorious outlaw motorcycle club Lee told investigators he believed was responsible for his wife’s slaying. Specifically, Lee theorized she was the victim of a Pagan known as “Little Joe.”
Steven “Oscar” Bailey, a former sergeant-at-arms of the Charleston chapter of Pagans, acknowledged there had been a confrontation between Lanham-Lee and “Little Joe” — whom he identified as Joe Estep — in the parking lot of a West Virginia bar. However, he said it was a minor one that stemmed from Estep trying to keep him from riding his motorcycle home after he’d been drinking.
“Joe didn’t want me to ride and tried to stop me — which he was supposed to do,” he said. “Crickett said something to him and he told her to shut up. That was it.”
Bailey was one of 35 members of the Pagans arrested in October 2009 on a litany of charges including racketeering, illegal gambling, extortion, robbery, assaults, drug trafficking and weapons violations. He was subsequently convicted and incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution at Summit, where he said Lanham-Lee and her husband came to visit him several times.
He said he and Lanham-Lee were friends for about 10 years prior to her death, and that “she was like my little sister.”
Stevens questioned Bailey about the message that was found written on a wall in the Lees’ apartment near where Lanham-Lee’s body was located. It read “SNITCH! U R NEXT!” and was outlined by a crude diamond shape.
“Did you ever make the statement this (message) might have been directed at you?” he asked.
Bailey acknowledged a former girlfriend had made that “insinuation” to him, although he couldn’t say where she might have gotten that information.
Also taking the witness stand for the prosecution on Monday was Dr. John C. Hunsaker, the associate chief medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Lanham-Lee. He testified the cause of her death was blood loss from two stab wounds to the lower front portion of her neck, one in the center of her neck near her breast plate and the other about an inch to the right and slightly higher.
It was the latter wound that was likely the fatal one, Hunsaker said, because the blade severed Lanham-Lee’s right subclavian artery, which is fed by the aorta. She likely bled to death within about 10 minutes of the injury being inflicted, he said.
A screening of bodily fluids showed Lanham-Lee had no detectable amounts of drugs or alcohol in her system, leading Hunsaker to opine she was “absolutely sober” at the time of her death.
Lanham-Lee’s friend, Sheila Shain of Shepherdsville, was called to the stand by Commonwealth’s Attorney Cliff Duvall to introduce a series of photographs. One of them showed Lanham-Lee and Shain together in the gallery of the Kentucky General Assembly, where Lanham-Lee was recognized the week before her death for her charitable efforts on behalf of abused children. Among those, she said, was the establishment of a national event known as the Katelynn Stinnett Memorial Ride, which to date has raised nearly $500,000 for various charities, she said.
“Crickett was a scrapper. She always stood up for the underdog, whether it was the children, the veterans or anyone else she felt wasn’t getting a fair shake,” she said.
Shain also acknowledged her friend was no shrinking violet and was known for being blunt and outspoken.
“You knew what Crickett was thinking every minute of every day,” she said. “There was no filter between what she thought and what she said.”
Other testimony Monday concerned the finding of Lanham-Lee’s dog in the Howland Hill-Plum Fork area near the A-A Highway. Marcus McCord, who lives on Plum Fork, said he saw the animal running loose and became concerned it might hurt one of his children. It was only later, he said, that he learned from a neighbor authorities were looking for the dog as part of a murder investigation.
Albert Allard, a minister who also lives on Plum Fork, said the Lees’ former neighbor, Kevin Skaggs, came to his house the evening of March, 21, 2011, to speak to him about some matters that had been troubling him. Skaggs left after 90 minutes, he said, but returned about 10 minutes later in an agitated and highly emotional state.
Skaggs asked to use the phone so he could call his wife, Kathy, and Allard said he heard him tell her he’d found Pandi. Skaggs could barely get the words out though his tears, he said.
KENNETH HART can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2654.