Raynella Dossett Leath
is a Knoxville, Tennessee woman serving a life sentence at the
Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville for the 2003 murder of her
husband David Leath. Prosecutors alleged that she shot her husband
in the head, and then attempted to stage his murder as a suicide.
Dossett Leath is also a suspect in the 1992 death of her first
husband, Ed Dossett, who supposedly died from being trampled by a
cattle stampede, but prosecutors now believe that he was killed
with a lethal dose of morphine.
Raynella Large was born on October 25, 1948 and
raised in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She attended Oak Ridge High School
and graduated in 1966. Raynella went on to become a registered
nurse, and she married her first husband, Ed Dossett, the Knox
County District Attorney, in 1970. The couple had three children,
and the family lived on a farm west of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Death of first husband
In August 1992, Ed Dossett, who at that time
was in the late stages on terminal cancer, was found dead in the
couple's corral, allegedly having been trampled by cattle. Despite
the medical examiner's suspicions about a double indemnity clause
on Ed's life insurance policy, his death was initially ruled to be
an agricultural accident by the first medical examiner who
autopsied him. Just six months after Ed's death, Raynella married
her second husband, a retired barber, David Leath. It was not
until 2006 that the death of Ed Dossett would be re-investigated
after David Leath's death.
Dead of second husband
On March 13, 2003, Raynella found the body of
her second husband David Leath in their bedroom. She called 9-1-1
and reported her husband's death as a suicide. The physical
evidence suggested that three shots were fired from a .38 caliber
Colt revolver, but police argued that it was the second shot that
killed David Leath.
Following his death, authorities
re-investigated the death of Ed Dossett. A new medical examiner
revealed that the morphine levels in Ed Dossett's system were "so
extraordinarily high it is unlikely that any human could function
in an ambulatory manner or continue to live." In 2006, Raynella
was charged with administering an overdose of morphine. Two years
later, in 2008, she was charged with first-degree murder in the
death of David Leath.
Attempted murder charge
In 1995, after the death of her first husband,
Raynella discovered that Ed Dossett had an affair with another
woman that resulted in the birth of a child. Her late husband's
mistress was in the middle of a divorce with Steve Walker; the
mistress revealed to Mr. Walker that she had an affair with Ed
Dossett and that Dossett fathered one of her children. Soon after,
Raynella lured Mr. Walker to her farm, where she allegedly opened
fire on him until she ran out of bullets. She was charged with
attempted murder, but plea bargained to a lesser charge. She
served 6 years on probation and her criminal record was expunged.
In May 2009, Raynella Dossett Leath went on
trial for the murder of her second husband David. She maintained
that her husband's death was a suicide. After hours of jury
deliberation, there was no verdict and the judge declared a hung
Raynella's retrial began in January 2010. The
prosecutor began his opening statement by playing Raynella's 911
call, then explaining why David's death was murder rather than
suicide. The prosecutor said three shots were fired and the second
shot killed David instantly. He also told the jury David was also
drugged with a combination similar to what's used for patients
having surgery. In this trial, Raynella's defense did not argue
that David's death was in fact a homicide, but that Raynella had
After a day of deliberation, the jury had not
reached a unanimous verdict. However, on January 25, 2010,
Raynella Dossett Leath was convicted of first-degree murder and
was automatically sentenced to 51 years to life in prison.
Immediately following her conviction, the charges relating to her
first husband's death were dropped.
Following her conviction, Raynella appealed for
a new trial on the basis of Judge Richard Baumgartner's judicial
misconduct for his drug use. She cited the murder of Channon
Christian and Christopher Newsom case, which resulted in all of
the defendants' convictions being overturned. Raynella's appeal
In popular culture
True crime author Diane Fanning published
Her Deadly Web in 2012 about the Raynella Dossett Leath case.
Her case appeared on the Deadly Women episode, An
Inconvenient Marriage. Snapped June 17, 2012.
Raynella Dossett Leath found guilty of 2nd
January 26, 2010
KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- The jury
in Raynella Dossett Leath's re-trial found her guilty Monday of
first degree murder in the shooting of her second husband, David
When the verdict was read,
Dossett Leath's mouth fell open in shock. She was granted a few
minutes with her daughters before being taken into custody.
But David Leath's daughter,
Cindy Wilkerson, called the verdict "a burden off my shoulders."
Wilkerson added, "Something
needed to be done. He didn't do it. I didn't do it. They chose the
right one today."
The jury of nine women and
six men announced the verdict Monday afternoon shortly after
watching video again from the crime scene. It was also shown
during the trial.
The jurors returned to the
jury room Monday morning. They were not able to reach a verdict
Sunday after deliberating for about six hours.
There is an automatic
sentence of life with the possibility of parole for Dossett Leath.
This is the second time she
was tried on accusations of shooting her husband, David Leath, on
March 13, 2003 and then making it look like a suicide.
The first trial for his
death ended with a hung jury in March 2009.
Judge Richard Baumgartner
handed the case to the jury after hearing five days of witness
testimony and arguments by defense and prosecution attorneys.
According to testimony by
Knox Count Medical Examiner Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, David
Leath was shot three times. She said the second shot killed him
A toxicology report showed
he was drugged with a combination of drugs similar to what's used
for patients having surgery.
Dossett Leath's attorney,
Jim Bell, argued throughout the trial that no evidence directly
connected her to the shooting.
She is also awaiting trial
in August for the 1992 death of her first husband, former Knox
County District Attorney Ed Dossett.
His death was initially
believed to be accidental when he was trampled by cattle, but
prosecutors are now trying to prove he died from an intentional
overdose of morphine.
Tennessee Woman Accused in Trail of Death
By Shaila Dewan - The New York
January 23, 2010
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Few people here know that
the ashes of David Leath, still in the cardboard box from the
crematorium, are kept on a shelf above the clean towels in the
Suburban Barber Shop where he cut hair at the middle chair for
almost 40 years.
But almost everyone has an opinion on how he
ended up there. Mr. Leath, 57, was found dead of a gunshot wound
in his own bed in 2003. His wife, Raynella Dossett Leath, said it
was a suicide, but she was ultimately charged with murder. Her
dramatic trial last year gripped the city, but it ended in a hung
jury. Last week, she went on trial again.
The trail of death in the case, however, does
not begin and end with a beloved barber, but winds its way up to
the highest levels of law enforcement in this city. There was a
fatal car crash, a love child, a missing will and, strangest of
all, the 1992 death, officially by cattle stampede, of the Knox
County prosecutor, Ed Dossett, who happened to be Ms. Dossett
Leath’s first husband at the time.
During the investigation of Mr. Leath’s death,
prosecutors became convinced that the death of Mr. Dossett was
also a homicide, and they have charged Ms. Dossett Leath, 61, in
that case as well. That trial will begin in August.
In the meantime, Ms. Dossett Leath has become a
notorious figure around town. Seventy percent of potential jurors
responding to a court questionnaire for the second trial said she
was probably guilty, according to a defense attorney.
Every quirk in her behavior has been parsed by
Knoxville residents for motive, even the fact that she had Mr.
Leath’s body cremated the day after he died. His body contained
unprescribed sedatives and painkillers, according to an autopsy
conducted hours earlier. Mr. Leath’s friends say he was opposed to
cremation and owned a plot in the cemetery where his parents are
On a recent morning at the Suburban Barber
Shop, Mr. Leath’s former partner, Hoyt Vanosdale, told how Ms.
Dossett Leath had asked him to deliver a package to Cynthia
Wilkerson, Mr. Leath’s daughter from a previous marriage, who now
cuts hair at her father’s old station. Mr. Vanosdale said she did
not tell him that the small, heavy box contained Mr. Leath’s
“Isn’t that kind of creepy?” he asked.
For years, Raynella Dossett Leath enjoyed an
elevated — some say protected — status in Knoxville. She was a
respected nurse, married to the county prosecutor (in Tennessee,
they are called district attorneys general). The couple, who
married in 1970, lived with their three children on the Dossett
family farm just west of town.
In 1992, Mr. Dossett was found dead in their
corral. His wife said he had been trampled by cattle, and the
death was ruled an agricultural accident. Mr. Dossett had been in
the late stages of terminal cancer, and Ms. Dossett Leath told the
authorities that she had helped him out to the barn to feed the
cattle at his request.
Randall E. Pedigo, the medical examiner at the
time, said the notion of a domestic cattle stampede raised
suspicions, but about insurance fraud not murder.
“There was a lot of talk and speculation at the
time that it was to make it look like an accidental death to
collect double indemnity,” said Mr. Pedigo, who lost his medical
license after being convicted of sedating and sexually molesting
minors in 1995. “Some people even speculated that it might have
been Ed Dossett’s idea.”
Mr. Pedigo said that prosecutors in Mr.
Dossett’s office resisted his performing an autopsy, that he felt
pressured to rule the death an accident and that he had a “policy”
of erring on the side of the family in cases where a judgment call
was required. He persuaded Ms. Dossett that the insurance company
would need an autopsy, and she consented. Mr. Pedigo said he found
traumatic injuries consistent with trampling and a hoof print in
the middle of the bib of Mr. Dossett’s overalls.
But when the current medical examiner, Dr.
Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, reviewed the file as part of the Leath
investigation, she found that those injuries were not life
threatening. Instead, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said, Mr. Dossett’s
morphine level was “so extraordinarily high it is unlikely that
any human could function in an ambulatory manner or continue to
live.” In 2006, Ms. Dossett Leath was indicted in his death,
charged with administering an overdose of morphine.
Six months after Mr. Dossett’s death, his widow
married his friend and neighbor, David Leath. Friends say the
couple was happy — at least at first. He built her a greenhouse;
she bought him a custom truck with a matching horse trailer.
Two years later, Ms. Dossett Leath’s
11-year-old son was killed in an auto accident; her 15-year-old
daughter was the driver. Not long after that, according to court
records and newspaper accounts, Ms. Dossett Leath learned that her
dead husband might have had another son, with a woman who worked
in his office. In the midst of a divorce, the woman told her
husband, Steve Walker, that one of their two sons was actually
fathered by Mr. Dossett, and he told Ms. Dossett Leath.
Ms. Dossett Leath soon lured Mr. Walker to a
barn on her farm, telling him she had found some papers related to
the child. Once there, she opened fire on him, according to his
account, and chased him across the hayfields until she ran out of
ammunition. According to Mr. Walker’s statement to the police, she
said she would kill him and the child’s mother and raise the child
Ms. Dossett Leath was charged with attempted
murder, but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and did six years of
“diversion,” a form of probation. Then, the charge was expunged.
Friends say it was only months after Ms.
Dossett Leath completed her sentence that Mr. Leath was found
dead. He had signed deeds and a will, now missing, ensuring that
Ms. Dossett Leath would inherit all the couple’s property. At the
trial, her defense lawyers argued that the victim killed himself,
offering evidence that he was depressed and that his health was
declining. But a firearms expert for the prosecution said that of
three shots fired from the gun that day, it had been the second
one that killed Mr. Leath.
Ms. Dossett Leath’s lawyer, James A. H. Bell,
said that his client had loved her husband and that there was no
way she would have killed him.
“If you believe Miss Raynella murdered him,”
Mr. Bell said, “you have to believe she is nothing but a serpent
Only one juror declined to convict her in the
Raynella Dossett Leath on re-trial for 2nd
January 19, 2010
KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Raynella
Dossett Leath is on trial for the second time for the murder of
her second husband.
Raynella is accused of
shooting David Leath in the head on March 13, 2003 in their
bedroom. Her first trial for his death ended with a hung jury in
Raynella pleaded not guilty
after the indictment was read Tuesday morning.
The evidence in this case
and the theories by the state and prosecution about what happened
remain the same as in the first trial.
In his opening statement,
prosecutor Richard Fisher played part of Raynella's 911 call from
the night of David's death. Then he explained why he believes
David was murdered, rather than committing suicide.
Fisher said three shots were
fired and the second shot killed David instantly.
He told the jury David was
also drugged with a combination similar to what's used for
patients having surgery.
Fisher argued that David's
murder was carefully contrived by Raynella.
In his opening argument,
defense attorney Jim Bell said the jury didn't hear the entire 911
call made to report David's shooting, so they don't know the whole
Bell played the 911 call,
although the voice of his investigator could also be heard. He
said it was inadvertently included.
Bell also told the jurors
they may not hear from any defense witnesses or from Raynella.
The state called Knox County
sheriff's Sgt. David Amburn to the stand. He was one of first
officers to arrive on at the scene at David and Raynella's home.
Amburn said Raynella was
laying in the front yard not moving. He said when he nudged her
with his foot, she started to cry and told the officers "Help him!
Help him! He's been shot!"
After the gun was introduced
into evidence, the jury was allowed to examine it.
Judge Richard Baumgartner
excused one juror for family reasons before opening arguments.
The jury is now made up of
12 jurors and two alternates. Jurors are sequestered for the
re-trial. They were seated last week.
Leath is also expected to
stand trial in August for the 1992 death of her first husband,
former Knox County District Attorney Ed Dossett.
The cause of Dossett's death
was initially believed to be accidental when he was trampled by
But prosecutors are now
trying to prove Dossett, who had cancer, died from an intentional
overdose of morphine.