TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Local News

February 20, 2014

Abner’s mother testifies

First day of trial for Corbin man accused of killing 21-year-old

CORBIN — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

“I’m Ryan’s mother.”

Those words were spoken through trembling tears Wednesday by Velma J. Abner during the first day of the trial for a Corbin man accused of killing her 21-year-old son, Ryan Abner, in August 2012.

William “Bill” Cox, 56, faces murder and two first-degree wanton endangerment charges relating to Ryan Abner’s shooting death — a jury was seated in this case Tuesday.

After the opening statements of Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Trimble and defense attorney David Hoskins, Velma Abner was the first witness called by Trimble to testify Wednesday during the trial.

During Trimble’s questioning, she told jurors she was retired from the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, where she currently resides.

She testified that her son moved to Kentucky to assist his siblings and grandmother in caring for their grandfather, an Alzheimer’s patient.

While he lived in Kentucky, Velma Abner said he worked with a concrete and landscaping business.

She said that her son and his girlfriend, Brittany Cox, met while attending school together.

Ryan Abner and Cox began a relationship, even though he was a legal adult and Brittany Cox was only 14 — a relationship that culminated with an infant son.

“She did tell Ryan (that) she was older than she was,” Velma Abner said.

She also testified she knew her son faced addiction problems — an accident on a dirt bike got him hooked to pain medicine the first time.

Velma Abner said he overcame that addiction — until an accident with a four-wheeler some time later.

“It was even harder the second time (for him to quit),” she said.

She told jurors that her son, Brittany Cox, and the baby lived with Bill Cox in a home on Forest Hill Circle in Corbin — Bill Cox lived upstairs and her son and his new family lived downstairs.

She testified she talked to her son often, either through visits or by phone.

“The last time I talked to him was the Saturday before — less than 48 hours before he (Bill Cox) killed Ryan,” Velma Abner said with heavy emotion, adding that her son was at a restaurant eating with Brittany Cox, Bill Cox and the baby.

“They were all laughing — that was the last time I heard Ryan laugh — the last time I heard him with joy,” she said through tears. “It’s mind-boggling to me — he (Bill Cox) called Ryan his son-in-law.

“I never thought he would do something like this to my child.”

Hoskins then cross-examined Velma Abner.

During that portion of her testimony, it was learned from Hoskins she filed a lawsuit “against another party — the party (she feels) is partly responsible” for her son’s death.

“(He is) just as much responsible, if not more,” Velma Abner said. “I’m sure he egged Mr. Cox on.”

It was never revealed through testimony who that lawsuit has officially been filed against, but Velma Abner verified through her words the lawsuit does exist.

Once her testimony ended and a short break was taken, jurors then listened to several 911 calls made by various people — including Bill Cox.

Then Trimble’s second witness for the day took the stand — Whitley County Coroner Andy Croley.

He testified that once he arrived and secured the scene he found Ryan Abner in his vehicle.

Then Trimble produced the first photo of the day — it was Ryan Abner, slumped over to the right side of the steering wheel.

Several items were taken as evidence from the vehicle, according to Croley, including several spent shell cartridges and live rounds — and several various pills.

What wasn’t found was a weapon, Croley testified.

The next series of pictures were of Ryan Abner’s fatal gunshot wounds — one to the left eye, one behind the left ear and the other on his left side at the bottom of his ribcage.

Further testimony from Croley revealed that the angle of where the shots originated could be and was determined.

Croley said all the evidence showed Ryan Abner was killed while seated in his vehicle.

During Hoskins’ cross examination, the attorney asked Croley, “do you know what she removed from the vehicle before (you) got there?”

“No,” Croley said.

The third witness called by Trimble was Dr. Victoria Graham with the state’s medical examiner’s office in Frankfort.

Her testimony corroborated Croley’s statements earlier concerning the gunshot wounds — and added that either of the two shots in Ryan Abner’s head would have killed him individually.

She also testified that stippling, or blood spatter, discovered around the abdominal gunshot wound can assist in determining the distance a shooter was from a victim when the shot was fired.

Graham added that a toxicology test performed revealed therapeutic levels of Xanax and Hydrocodone, marijuana, and a high amount of Oxycodone — which she said “could” indicate a drug problem or addiction.

Hoskins’ asked Graham what other drugs were found in Ryan Abner’s system — and that list included diazepam and cocaine.

Hoskins asked whether the combination of those drugs could make someone aggressive or dangerous — and Graham testified yes.

After a lunch break, the afternoon began with the testimony of the fourth witness of the day — Corbin Police Lt. Detective Rusty Hedrick.

He testified he was the first on the scene — where he found Ryan Abner dead in his black Chevrolet Equinox.

The Chevrolet was parked in the middle of the street between the Bill Cox home and the residence of a neighbor and witness in the trial, Joe Dobson.

He also said that Brittany Cox was outside of the car, screaming. “She told me her father (Bill Cox) shot him (Ryan Abner),” Hedrick said.

The detective then testified he found Bill Cox at Dobson’s home.

Hedrick then said that he found other bullet damage to the vehicle — a strike mark on the body of the car and a bullet hole in the windshield.

Pictures of these residences and gunshot damage were shared with jurors.

Also shared was a diagram of the scene — the location of Dobson’s home, Bill Cox’s home, a residence between those two houses, and the area where Ryan Abner died.

Hedrick testified that a shell casing was found at the end of Dobson’s driveway, and others were found in and around the Chevrolet.

Those casings were from a Smith & Wesson 40-caliber Glock handgun, which Hedrick showed the jury.

The detective said that 13 spent and unspent casings were recovered during the investigation.

Hedrick interviewed Bill Cox at the police station in Corbin, and that video interview was played for jurors.

During that 24-minute video, Bill Cox was seated, appeared calm and was drinking a bottled drink.

His Miranda rights were read to him, which includes the fact he doesn’t have to speak with law enforcement until an attorney is present. Bill Cox signed a waiver of those rights in the video.

“I’ll talk to you…tell you (the) truth,” Bill Cox told Hedrick, alleging that during the previous evening, Ryan Abner had “told me he was going to kill me.”

Much of what Abner said during the interview appeared hard for some to understand — but it shows Bill Cox demonstrating a choking situation.

He tells Hedrick that he never saw his daughter or Ryan Abner use drugs. He also said that Ryan Abner pulled in his driveway around 11 a.m. the day of the shooting. “He was cussing and going on,” Bill Cox said, alleging that Ryan Abner repeatedly said he was going to kill him.

Bill Cox then said during that interview that he bought the gun used to kill Ryan Abner “two or three days” before Abner’s death.

“You had it in your possession today when (you) talked to (Dobson),” Hedrick asks.

Cox answered yes.

He then told the detective after he shot Ryan Abner three times, “I figured he was dead,” and walked back to the Dobson residence, giving the gun to Dobson.

Once the video ended, Trimble resumed his questioning — and asked whether Hedrick interviewed Dobson.

Hedrick testified that Dobson told him he never saw Ryan Abner act aggressive toward Bill Cox the day he was shot.

Hedrick added that because a gun was fired, a gunshot residue test was performed on Bill Cox.

During cross-examination, Hoskins revealed that Bill Cox’s cell phone was also taken by police — and that during a review of the phone calls made, one was made the night before Abner was killed.

That call went to Whitley County dispatchers — and it was a call that he was being threatened by Ryan Abner,

The next man Trimble called as his fifth witness was Corbin Police Lt. Detective Bill Rose — who testified he collected the gun from Dobson’s home.

He also told jurors he went with Ryan Abner’s body to Frankfort to the medical examiner’s office for Abner’s autopsy, which he witnessed.

Hoskins had no questions for Rose.

This led to the sixth witness of the day — Jessica Copeland, a forensic scientist with the Regional Forensic lab in Kentucky.

She testified that through forensic testing, she determined the gun gathered at the scene was in fact the same gun which fired the shots at Abner and his car.

Hoskins had no questions for her, either.

The seventh person to take the stand for the prosecution was Jon Clem, a forensic scientist with the Kentucky State Police Crime lab in Frankfort.

He examined the gunshot residue test conducted on Bill Cox, and testified it was positive for that residue — adding that gunshot residue can only be present if the person is the shooter, handling something with the residue on it, or in the near vicinity of the gun when it’s fired.

This witness was also not questioned by Hoskins — which led to witness number 8, Linda Moore, a lab technician assistant at Baptist Health Corbin. She testified that she took Bill Cox’s blood for forensic testing under supervision of the detectives.

Hoskins only asked whether Cox was cooperative during that process, and Moore said yes.

The ninth witness called by Trimble was Courtney Carver, a forensic chemist with KSP’s Central Forensic Lab in Frankfort.

She was the chemist responsible for performing a toxicology test on Cox’s blood and urine — and testified that the metabolites of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, were found in his system but that it had been some time since the drug had been ingested.

The 10th witness for Wednesday afternoon was a neighbor to both Dobson and Bill Cox — Maxine Eckert.

She testified she was driving to her residence on Forest Circle Drive and when she got closer to home, she noticed a car parked in the street in front of her house.

“When I got closer…something was wrong,” she said, adding she saw a girl screaming and a man walking up the hill toward Dobson’s home.

“I saw the girl (Brittany Cox),” Eckert said. “She was saying ‘he shot him, he shot him, he shot him.’”

She contacted 911.

She further testified that upon Brittany Cox’s request, she removed the baby from its car seat in the back and cared for the child until relatives took over.

Hoskins had no questions for Eckert.

The 11th witness called to the stand was Elbert Howson, who resides on Forest Circle Drive.

“I was actually laying down..to take a nap,” Howson said. “(The) dog went crazy and I heard three pops — I raised the blinds and saw the aftermath.”

He also saw Cox walking away from the vehicle in which Ryan Abner died toward Dobson’s home.

During Hoskins’ cross exam, Howson testified that he didn’t really know Bill Cox but that Cox had lived in the neighborhood for less than a year.

He added that at one point while walking his dog, he overheard a verbal argument between Ryan Abner and Bill Cox, but was unsure of the subject of the disagreement.

The 12th witness for the day was Erin Powers, a forensic scientist with Southeastern Regional Forensic Lab in London.

She testified that she handled the drugs recovered from the scene and that the prescription pills were what she focused on based on protocol.

She said the drugs included Suboxone, Hydrocodone, and clonazepam.

Other material was sent for analysis, but Powers said any analysis on that plant material was not performed by her.

Hoskins repeatedly asked whether a visual inspection would lead her to believe that plant material was marijuana, but Powers refused to answer saying she had not analyzed the material and could not offer an educated answer.

The 13th and final witness to appear for the prosecution for the day was another neighbor — Joe Dobson.

Although during the initial video interview with Hedrick Bill Cox said he’d had the gun used to kill Abner a few days before the shooting, Dobson testified differently.

Dobson said that Cox had arrived at his residence and asked him whether he still had the gun — the two men had previously discussed the possibility of Cox buying the weapon. “(He said) Joe, you got a pistol I can borrow,” Dobson testified.

Dobson added that Cox had not had the pistol in his possession prior to that day — Dobson retrieved it from his vehicle.

He then said he gave Cox the gun, then stood and talked in his driveway with Cox “15 to 18 minutes, maybe.”

At that point, Dobson testified that Ryan Abner “drove up in front of my house.”

He said that although he was not wearing his hearing aids that day, he did see there was “some type of conversation” between the two men.

“I thought that he (Ryan Abner) tried to hit him (Bill Cox),” Dobson said, adding that Abner never exited the vehicle.

“Abner saw the pistol and he drove off — that’s my impression,” he added. “He drove away from Mr. Cox.”

Dobson verified that Cox first fired a shot from near the end of his driveway, and that he thought Abner exited the vehicle.

“They were having words as (Bill Cox) got down there,” Dobson said. “(Then Ryan Abner) saw the gun and jumped into the car and Bill shot him.”

He added that Cox was “no more than three feet away” from Abner during the shooting.

After the shooting, Dobson testified that Cox returned to his residence on foot.

“He come walking back toward my garage (and said) ‘Joe here’s your gun back — I shot him,’” Dobson said, adding that he asked whether Cox killed Abner.

“He said he thought he did,” Dobson said.

During Hoskins’ cross exam, it was revealed that Dobson had bought the bullets that were loaded in that gun – which eventually killed Ryan Abner.

It was further revealed that even though Bill Cox had the gun, he “didn’t go looking” for Abner.

Dobson testified that after Cox fired the first shot, Abner stopped the car.

Hoskins asked whether it looked like Abner was reaching for a gun.

Trimble objected.

“There’s no evidence of (that) and no testimony whatsoever (to support that),” Trimble said.

Judge Paul Winchester then recessed court for the day — the trial resumes today.

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