Trial: Children weep recalling shotgun slaying

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 4, 2014 

Children wept Tuesday recalling the day Lonnie Jacob Ragan killed Holly Laurel Hearn with a shotgun blast to the chest during a custody dispute over his son.

That he fatally shot the 28-year-old sister of his estranged wife is not in dispute, Ragan’s defense attorney Bill Mason told the jury during the first day of testimony in Ragan’s murder trial.

Also undisputed is Ragan’s wounding Hearn’s husband Ryan, Mason said: “Ninety percent of the facts in this case are not in dispute.”

Among the witnesses attesting to those facts Tuesday was the Hearns’ 7-year-old son, who was 4 at the time. He cried and couldn’t reply when first asked what happened, but after a courtroom break he meekly testified that Ragan pointed a shotgun at his father outside their 5912 Billings Court home and ordered Ryan Hearn to get on the ground.

“Please don’t shoot my dad,” he said he begged Ragan.

Ryan Hearn testified he and his son had been together on the side patio of their house Aug. 26, 2011, when he heard his wife exclaim “No, Jacob! No!” and stepped out to investigate.

Ragan was there in the yard with a shotgun that he aimed at Ryan Hearn as Holly Hearn ran inside, he said.

He raised his hands and told Ragan, “Please don’t do this,” he said.

Demanding to know where his son was, Ragan first ordered Ryan Hearn to get on the ground, then commanded him to kick in a side door to the house, the husband testified. When the door wouldn’t budge, the two walked to the home’s front door, he said.

As they approached the door, Holly Hearn came out with a revolver she’d got from the couple’s bedroom. Though she did not point it at Ragan, he shot her in the chest at close range, and she fell just a few feet from her front door, Ryan Hearn said.

Knowing Ragan had a pump-action shotgun he would have to work to chamber another shell, Ryan Hearn tried to get away, sprinting across the yard toward his car parked on the street, he said. Ragan turned and blasted him in the right hip, shattering his femur and maiming his right hand, he said.

Unable to walk and hearing Ragan advancing on him, he tried to take cover by crawling under his Chevrolet Caprice, he said.

A neighbor, Charles Kostelac, testified that he saw Ryan Hearn fall wounded. Kostelac said Ragan walked over to the wounded man, squatted down, and tried to shoot him again, but the shotgun didn’t fire. Ragan kept fiddling with it, so it appeared the gun had jammed, Kostelac said.

Inside the Hearns’ home were four or five children, including a girl, then 10, who looked out a window and saw Holly Hearn dead outside. The girl, who lives nearby and was visiting the Hearns’ two children, called 911.

Prosecutors played a recording of the call. “My friend’s mom just got shot,” she told a dispatcher, who asked where the woman was hit. “I don’t know,” the girl replied.

Asked in court why she called 911, the girl said of Holly Hearn, “Because she was dead.”

Across the cul de sac that day was Chandler Braski, now 18, who was washing his truck when he saw Ragan drive up and get out of his Ford F-150 with a shotgun. He testified he then heard arguing, and heard Holly Hearn say, “Let me in the house!”

He heard a shotgun blast, and then saw Ryan Hearn run across the yard and fall wounded, he said. When the shooter got back in his pickup and left, Braski ran to Ryan Hearn to ask how he could help. “Go to Holly,” he said Ryan Hearn told him.

He went to where Holly Hearn lay on her back, her legs tucked under her, and saw that she was dead, he said, so he went back to her husband. “Get the kids,” Ryan Hearn told him, so Braski went inside, got two of the kids and took them to another neighbor’s house, he said.

The first police officer to arrive was Christian Gibney, who found Ryan Hearn on the ground in extreme pain, saying “My right leg is on fire,” and “He peppered me,” Gibney testified.

“I think my wife is dead,” Hearn told him, Gibney said.

Also testifying Tuesday was Brad Acker, a Hearn family friend, who was the first to encounter Ragan that Friday evening at a nearby service station.

Acker said he had visited the Hearns that afternoon before gassing up his truck to go pick up his children. At a Shell station at Billings Road and Warm Springs Road, Ragan pulled in, blocking Acker’s truck, and demanded to know where his son was, Acker testified.

Acker said Ragan pulled a shotgun on him and threatened to kill him if he didn’t answer the question. Mason in his opening statement Tuesday told the jury Ragan’s estranged wife at the time, Desiree Thoman, had been staying with the Hearns along with her son, so that’s where Ragan expected to find them.

But Ryan Hearn testified Thoman had moved out, renting her own apartment, so she was not at the Hearns’ home that day.

Ryan Hearn said the family had repeated problems with Ragan, who would call to harass them and prowl by their house. “He was never allowed on my property,” Ryan Hearn said.

Mason told the jury Ragan, then 27, wanted only to see his son, but his wife and in-laws were denying him visitation and playing games with him, saying he could visit his son if first he paid them money.

Acker testified Holly Hearn was his best friend, so when Ragan saw Acker at the service station, he assumed Acker would know where his son was. Acker said Ragan ordered him to get into Ragan’s pickup, but he persuaded Ragan to let him move his truck away from the gas pump.

Then Acker fled, speeding away and trying to lose Ragan in a nearby neighborhood before he drove to the Hearns to warn them Ragan was coming, he testified.

But Ragan was right behind him as Acker sped onto Billings Court, honking his horn and shouting. Ryan Hearn said he heard Acker yelling, but could not catch the words.

Acker saw the shooting from his pickup truck. He testified he did not call 911 until he was driving away on Billings Road, fearing Ragan still was chasing him, but on a 911 recording of his call, he tells a dispatcher, “He just shot two people with a shotgun!” — as though he were witnessing it as he called.

His call came in at 7 p.m.

Mason noted that though Acker testified he and Holly Hearn were best friends, what he wrote on a police photo of Ragan indicated he was closer to Ragan’s wife: He wrote that Ragan was his “best friend’s soon to be ex-husband.”

Besides the distraught children testifying Tuesday, relatives in the courtroom audience also wept, particularly when Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Cooley showed the jury an enlarged wedding photo of Holly Hearn. Mason later objected that the image was intended only to “provoke sympathy.” Complaining the outpouring of emotion with the jury present was excessively prejudicial, he demanded a mistrial, arguing the damage was irreversible. Judge Gil McBride denied the motion.

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