CORBIN — Published Feb. 21, 2014
By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
It took a jury about three hours Thursday to convict William “Bill” Cox for first-degree manslaughter under extreme emotional distress in the August 2012 shooting death of his grandson’s father, 21-year-old Ryan Abner.
It took much less time to sentence him to a decade in prison for that crime.
Cox shot Abner three times in broad daylight in the middle of Forest Circle Drive in Corbin in 2012 — killing him instantly.
That same jury also convicted Cox on two counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. Those counts were lodged after he shot Abner in the car, which carried his grandson and 17-year-old daughter, Brittany Cox. The shooting put the mother and baby in danger of death or injury from gunfire.
He received one year each for those charges — and all three sentences are to be served consecutively.
THE SECOND DAY
During the second day of the trial, Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Trimble called his 14th witness for the prosecution – Cox’s daughter, a high school junior and mother to Abner’s now two-year-old son.
Brittany Cox testified that she had lived in Barbourville for 11 years and had only lived in Corbin for 8 months.
She told jurors she met Abner sometime between the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011. “I met him riding four-wheelers and passed him in the road,” she said. “We became friends and it went from there.”
From there, according to her testimony, led to a relationship between her and Abner, who was 19 at the time – Brittany Cox was 13.
She testified that her father, whom she referred to as “Bill” through most of her time on the stand, knew and accepted the age difference. “We were around each other all the time,” she said. “We were together every day.”
Brittany Cox added when Abner was living in Cincinnati, Ohio, her father would drive her there, leave her there for a week, then return to bring her back to Kentucky.
Then she became pregnant.
During the pregnancy and after, she told jurors she continued living with Abner and their child in the basement of her father’s rented residence on Forest Circle Drive.
Trimble asked Brittany Cox whether Abner worked.
“He did rock work, like a handyman,” she said. “Anything he was able to do.”
She further testified that she thought the relationship between her boyfriend and her father “was great.”
“He (Bill Cox) would introduce him as his son-in-law – the son he never had,” she said.
Trimble asked her if Abner was ever “physical” with her. “Never – not once,” she said.
“Are you sure?” asked Trimble.
“Yes,” she said.
But did they argue? “Of course, who don’t,” she said.
She said the day before her father shot Abner to death, the three of them and the baby went out. “We all went out to eat just like we did every weekend,” she said.
After the meal, she testified that the four of them returned to the Forest Circle Drive residence, then she, Abner and the baby went to spend the night at a friend’s house near the Bell County line.
She said it was not an argument at the Forest Circle home that caused them to leave.
The next morning they left the friend’s house to return to the Forest Circle home, she said, to pick up diapers and other things to go to Abner’s father’s residence in Barbourville.
She said they were getting ready to leave when she saw her father drive by their home – and stop at a neighbor’s home.
“He went up the hill to Joe Dobson’s,” she said.
Testimony on Wednesday placed Bill Cox outside the Dobson home, borrowing a 40-caliber Glock pistol from that neighbor.
Brittany Cox said at that time, no words were spoken between her father and boyfriend.
“We got to the bottom of the hill…(and I) forgot my purse,” she said. “We went back around – and never made it.”
“Back around,” according to testimony, was a longer way to return to the Cox home – and passes the Dobson residence.
She said that when they drove past the Dobson home, Bill Cox “shot at us.”
“Ryan went on down the hill and started screaming at Bill,” she said, adding he was angry that her father had shot the gun toward her and the baby.
For some reason that remains unclear, Bill Cox walked toward the Chevrolet Equinox housing Abner, his daughter and granddaughter.
“The gun was basically in the window,” she said. “The last words I heard (Abner) say were ‘You wasn’t gonna kill me.’”
She testified her father never said a single word.
When Abner was shot, the Chevrolet was still in gear, she said, adding “I had to slam it up in park” to stop the car.
“Are you positive Ryan never got out of the car?” Trimble asked.
“Yes,” she said.
Brittany Cox testified that after Abner had been shot, she got out of the car. Her baby was given to a neighbor.
“I went to the driver’s side and screamed and held him,” she said.
During her testimony, Bill Cox kept dropping his head – often his daughter was in tears during her questioning.
She said that she knew of no reason why her father shot Abner. “We all lived in the same house – I thought everything was fine,” Brittany Cox said. “I thought we had a perfect life.”
Hoskins then cross examined her – and jurors learned Abner “spent lots of time not working.”
She agreed with Hoskins that her father allowed Abner to live in the home. “You stayed with him – it was a nice house, a nice part of town,” Hoskins said. “(And he) paid the rent, utilities, a cell phone — your dad tried real hard to make things work out — and now you’re going to tell the jury (you know of) no reason whatsoever for your dad to start shooting.”
She told him she “had no idea.”
Then Hoskins questioned her about the day of the shooting — particularly, the reason for the return trip to the Cox home.
He asked her if she had told lead investigator in the shooting, Corbin Police Lt. Detective Rusty Hedrick, if she returned to the Cox home the longer way for a different reason other than her purse.
Hoskins said he understood that she told Hedrick she had asked Abner to stop at the Dobson home to get some money from Cox.
Brittany Cox refuted that suggestion, saying she was returning to the Cox home for the purse. “That’s where my money was,” she said. “I don’t remember giving that statement.”
It was then learned that the night before Abner was killed, the police were contacted concerning a domestic disturbance — but it wasn’t clear whether officers actually arrived at the scene.
She also testified that while she was aware Abner used drugs and smoked marijuana in front of her — she was not aware of the other drugs found in his possession and in his system when he was killed.
Once her time at the stand ended, she left the room in tears — her father, the defendant, dropped his head and appeared to be crying as well.
The prosecution then rested.
Hoskins began his defense by recalling a witness who testified Wednesday — Hedrick.
He testified that Brittany Cox, during an interview conducted with her, told him that she did want Abner to drive the long way back to the Cox residence to get some money from her father.
Trimble then asked whether she could have been mistaken. “She just lost the father of her child, a boyfriend she loved,” he said.
“She could have, yes,” Hedrick said.
But then Hoskins asked again if Brittany Cox “told Ryan to go around the circle to get money” from her father.
“That’s what I put in the report,” Hedrick said.
Bill Cox’s sister, Nancy Cobb, was Hoskins’ second witness Thursday. She testified that the night before the shooting her brother called her and asked to sleep on her couch. Trimble objected to some of her other testimony that she “had never seen” Bill Cox be violent.
The third witness Hoskins called was a 16-year-old friend of Brittany Cox’s. She testified that Abner “would grab (Brittany Cox), jerk her by the face, force her to go places, cuss her out if she didn’t do the right thing…” — and that’s when Trimble objected to this witness for the first time.
Hoskins asked whether she could remember a specific time Abner was abusive toward Brittany Cox.
She said once she was outside with Brittany Cox, Abner and another friend, and Abner reportedly “had grabbed Brittany by the face and was jerking her around (with) the baby in her arms.”
She then tried to say that Abner “threatened to kill me, kill my family….” and that’s when Trimble’s next objection came out.
She began to testify again, and yet another objection came from Trimble.
After several more attempts at garnering her testimony and more silent conferences at the judge’s bench, Judge Paul Winchester asked the teen to step down — and told the jury to disregard the objectionable parts of her testimony.
The fourth witness Hoskins brought to the stand was Rhonda Mills, who has known and been friends with Bill Cox since her daughter was in seventh grade.
Mills testified that she witnessed Abner once get violent with Brittany Cox.
“I (saw) Brittany and Ryan on the road, (and he) was shaking her like this (and she demonstrated),” Mills said. “He was pulling her by the arm down the road.”
She said she tried to get Brittany Cox to get into the car with her to be taken home but that “Ryan got her from me and she said ‘I’m not going with you.’”
After lunch, Hoskins called his fifth witness — a neighbor to the Cox family when they resided in Barbourville, Carla Broughton.
She testified she was close friends with Bill Cox and was present when Brittany Cox’s baby was born.
She also said that Bill Cox had contacted her the day of the shooting asking for the telephone number for social services.
She also attempted to testify as to Bill Cox’s state of mind during that phone call, however, Trimble objected several times. Some of her testimony Winchester asked the jury to disregard.
Trimble did not cross-examine Broughton.
Hoskins’ sixth witness was Brenda Hall, of Woodbine, another sister to Bill Cox.
She testified that she, too, received a phone call from her nbrother concerning getting help from her daughter concerning social service-related matters.
Hall also said that she felt her brother’s state of mind during that phone call was that “he was afraid, very frightened.
Trimble did not cross-examine this witness either.
The seventh and final witness called for the defense was a long-time friend and business associate of Bill Cox’s — Danny Fore.
He testified he’d known his friend for more than 30 years. He also tried to testify about his opinion about Bill Cox, but it was met with a pair of objections from Trimble — which left Fore to say he has “a good opinion’ about Cox and of his truthfulness.
Trimble did not ask this witness any questions.
And the defense then rested.
After jury instructions were prepared and reviewed with jurors, closing arguments began.
Hoskins offered his closing statement, which was followed by Trimble’s closing statement.
Hoskins reviewed some of the conflicting testimony with the jurors. “The evidence you heard — there was some conflicting evidence,” Hoskins said. “There’s a difference between what Brittany Cox said and what every other witness said about that day.”
He explained what Bill Cox knew the day he shot Abner to death.
“(He knew) Ryan was a drug addict, that he was capable of violence, that Ryan sometimes had a gun with him,” Hoskins told jurors. “He didn’t spend the night at home the night before.”
He added that on the day of the shooting, Bill Cox saw that Abner and his daughter were at his home and instead went to the neighbor’s, Joe Dobson. “He gets the gun because he’s scared,” Hoskins said.
“If (Abner and Brittany Cox) had never come looking for money from Bill — nothing would’ve happened that day,” Hoskins said. “Bill didn’t want that to happen — he did not want this tragedy to take place.”
Trimble’s closing statement discussed relatiation.
“We can’t retaliate (against someone) because we don’t like what they did,” Trimble told jurors — then reminded them of a statement made by Hoskins in the opening statements of the trial. “The first phrase — this was a long time coming — that’s another way of saying retaliation.”
He said that there was little to no evidence to confirm any evidence of violence against Brittany Cox by Abner.
“If you assume everything (the defense) tries to suggest is true,” Trimble said. “Is that a reason for a man to shoot the father of his grandchild while the boy is sitting in a car?”
He said that Bill Cox, after shooting at the car where Abner, Brittany Cox and their son were sitting, “walks down to the car, (puts) the gun to the boy’s head in the car.
“(Abner) says ‘what’re you gonna do — kill me’ — and he did,” Trimble added.
He said the 911 call Bill Cox made was “the best evidence of what the defendant was thinking.”
“On that 911 call he said ‘I know I’m going to prison but it was worth it,’ Trimble reminded jurors, who listened to that 911 call Wednesday.
Once closing statements were made, two jurors set up as alternates were chosen at random to leave.
That left a seven-man, five-woman jury to decide Cox’s guilt and subsequent punishment.
Cox’s three sentences total 12 years. According to Winchester, he must serve 85 percent of the 10-year sentence for first-degree manslaughter, and 20 percent of each of the one-year sentences for first-degree wanton endangerment.
Bill Cox’s official sentencing hearing is slated for April 21.