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Raynella DOSSETH LEATH

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Attempted to stage the murder as a suicide
Number of victims: 1 - 2
Date of murder: March 13, 2003
Date of arrest: 2008
Date of birth: October 25, 1948
Victim profile: David R. Leath (her second husband)
Method of murder: Shooting (.38 caliber Colt revolver)
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, USA
Status: Sentenced to 51 years to life in prison on January 25, 2010
 
 

 
 
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The Court of Appeals of Tennessee

 
Cynthia A. Wilkerson v. Raynella Dossett Leath
 
 

 
 

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.

Early life

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.

Murder trial

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 jury.

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 an alibi.

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.

Aftermath

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 was denied.

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 husband's murder

Wate.com

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 Leath.

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 instantly.

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 Times

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 buried.

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 ashes.

“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 herself.

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 of Satan.”

Only one juror declined to convict her in the first trial.


Raynella Dossett Leath on re-trial for 2nd husband's murder

Wate.com

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 March 2009.

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 story.

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 cattle.

But prosecutors are now trying to prove Dossett, who had cancer, died from an intentional overdose of morphine.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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