Murder trial delayed for new attorney

The murder case against Epionn Lee-McCampbell, scheduled for trial next week, was delayed until April of next year, to allow for private defense attorney Dennie Leach (left) to replace public defender John Straub (center).

DAVE THOMPSON | The Sun

With less than a week left until the murder trial against Epionn Lee-McCampbell was scheduled to begin, a judge allowed a delay in the case for a newly-hired defense attorney to take over in the place of a public defender.

Lee-McCampbell is accused of murder and fetal homicide in the death of Ja'Lynn Ragsdale and the unborn child she was carrying in March of last year.

Defense attorney Dennie Leach appeared with Lee-McCampbell in McCracken Circuit Court on Thursday morning. Leach requested to be appointed in the case after he was recently retained by Lee-McCampbell's family.

Lee-McCampbell had previously been represented by the Department of Public Advocacy, but told Circuit Judge Tony Kitchen that he didn't believe attorney John Straub, who works for that office, had been able to adequately handle his case.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jamie Mills strongly objected to any delay, as he had his witnesses subpoenaed, including doctors, experts and Ragsdale's friends who would testify to accusations of domestic abuse.

Near the end of the 30-minute hearing, Kitchen determined that the presumption was in favor of Lee-McCampbell having the opportunity to hire an attorney of his own choosing.

Chris McNeill, who heads the local public defender's office, informed Kitchen and Leach that he believed public funds would no longer be available to Lee-McCampbell, including funds for experts who had already been hired by his office.

McNeill said any work that experts or doctors had already completed would be paid for by public funds, but going forward he believed it would be up to Lee-McCampbell's family to cover costs for any further work needed.

Mills also informed the parties concerned that plea negotiations between prosecution and defense attorneys had been "far apart," leading him to believe a plea deal was unlikely and everyone should plan on the case going to trial.

Leach said he was charging the family a flat fee for his representation, regardless of whether the case went to trial.

Kitchen granted the request for the continuance, and set Lee-McCampbell's trial for April 21.

The trial is expected to last at least three days, and Kitchen allowed for one extra day in case the proceeding couldn't be concluded in the estimated time period.

Lee-McCampbell was arrested in September after a medical examiner's report listed homicide by asphyxiation as the cause of Ragsdale's death.

Court documents contained allegations of domestic violence by Lee-McCampbell against Ragsdale, and also included Lee-McCampbell's assertion that he and his pregnant girlfriend had been wrestling.

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