State rests, defense begins calling witnesses in Raynella Leath retrial

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The state rested Monday during week two of the Raynella Leath retrial.

The defense proceeded to call its first witnesses to the stand, beginning with Raynella Leath’s two adult daughters.

“It’s a loss for me and Katie, too,” Maggie Connatser, Raynella Leath’s eldest daughter, said.

Jurors heard emotional testimony from Raynella Leath’s children.

The state is arguing that Raynella Leath shot and killed her second husband David Leath with premeditation. The defense maintains David Leath’s dementia and increasing depression drove him to shoot and kill himself.

“Did he have trouble with confusion? “ the defense asked.

“Yeah,” Katie Butler, Raynella Leath’s youngest daughter, said. “He would get out driving and wouldn’t know where he was.”

David Leath’s step-daughters took the witness stand, recounting the day they learned of their step-dad’s death.

“How did your mom appear to you?” the defense questioned.

“Awful,” Connatser said. “I was very concerned for her well-being. She was glassy-eyed, and pale, and really upset.”

Butler said she and David Leath shared a close bond. She was only eight years old when her mom and David Leath wed. More than 14 years after his death, Butler still fights back tears. She was a senior in high school when she learned of the incident.

“They kept saying there’s been an accident,” Butler said, in between sobs. “And I said I wanted to go home. And they wouldn’t let me leave. And I said I can drive while crying I’ve been through enough hell.”

Both Butler and Connatser appear in court daily for the retrial, sitting on the side of their mother, the defendant. Still, they said they loved their step-father and took his death particularly hard.

“If he were murdered, you would want the person help accountable, wouldn’t you?” the state asked.

“I don’t think he was murdered,” Connatser said.

Previous story: Evidence takes center stage in week one of the Knoxville ‘Black Widow’ retrial

“That’s not my question,” the state said.

“If he was, because you loved him, you would want someone held accountable if they did it, wouldn’t you?” the state asked.

“Yes,” Connatsr said.

The defense proceeded to call in medical experts, beginning with David Leath’s neurologist, who told the court he was aware that he was suffering a mental decline.

“Anybody who was doing that poorly after a couple of years would be getting depressed about it,” Dr. Ronald Bryan said.

Dr. Bryan told jurors that he first met David Leath in early 2000. He said David Leath was struggling with confusion and had three mini strokes within a couple of years. He also said David Leath was suffering memory loss and increasing depression.

“He was always depressed,” he said.

“Is that why, according to this document, you talked about starting him on an anti-depressant?” the defense asked.

“We talked about that all the time,” Dr. Bryan said. “But you don’t like to start more than one medication at a time. So we started with the seizure medicine then we added the memory medicine with the intention of adding something for depression at some logical point.”

The defense tried to make the case that David Leath’s depression drove him to commit suicide.

“Is there anything about the location of that wound or the amount or nature of the stippling that is inconsistent with suicide?” the defense questioned.

“No,” Dr. David Fowler, medical examiner for the defense, said in testimony.

The defense brought in Dr. Fowler to counter the initial ruling that David’s death was a homicide.

“When you can do a physical assessment of the stippling or other features of close-range firing, and it’s within arm’s length of that individual, it immediately puts suicide as one of the potential manners of death that you should consider,” Dr. Fowler said.

Raynella Leath was previously tried twice for her husband’s death. The first time she was tried, it ended in a mistrial. The second time, she was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, eligible for parole after 51 years.

However, Judge Paul Summers tossed out that conviction in 2016, ruling that former Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner was under the influence of pain killers while presiding over the trial, a turn of events that scored Leath one more chance at freedom.

Defense testimony resumes in Knox County Criminal Court on May 9 at 9 a.m.

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