Murder trial update: Lonnie Ragan complains of mistreatment

Testimony focuses on explosives

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 5, 2014 

Testimony Wednesday in the murder trial of Lonnie Jacob Ragan focused on how authorities recovered Ragan’s shotgun, harness and improvised explosive devices after Holly Hearn’s fatal shooting.

The weaponry was found at the Harris County home of a friend of Ragan’s.

The friend was Brandon Barfield, who testified he traveled to the Talbotton home of Ragan’s father Walter Ragan soon after Hearn’s shotgun slaying Aug. 26, 2011, at 5912 Billings Court in Columbus.

Barfield said he’d got a text from Jacob Ragan, whom he called “Jake,” asking him to bring some water. Barfield said he had no water, but brought Ragan frozen Kool-Aid.

When he arrived about 7:30 p.m. at the 3693 Dennis Creek Road home the father and son shared, the father whistled, and the son came out of the woods wearing a harness and carrying a pistol-grip, pump-action Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, Barfield said.

“He looked like Rambo,” Barfield testified.

Ragan took the Kool-Aid and gave Barfield a black garbage bag, then took off the harness and put it and the shotgun in the bag, Barfield said.

Barfield, who had borrowed a brother-in-law’s car for the errand, took the bag back to his home in Waverly Hall, Ga., and put it in a storage shed. But he neglected to return the car, and his brother-in-law’s father got suspicious, having heard about Hearn’s homicide, and knowing Barfield and Ragan were friends.

The father, Wayne Isaacs, became more suspicious when Barfield evaded his questions. So Isaacs called Columbus police.

On Sept. 2, 2011, a week after the homicide, Columbus police with Harris County sheriff’s deputies drove to Barfield’s home to question him. Barfield consented to their searching a storage building at his home and told them the garbage bag was inside it, he said.

Among the officers there was Columbus Police Sgt. Lance Deaton, who said the bag contained the shotgun, extra shells, the harness, and three improvised explosive devices.

Deaton said he brought the bag back to Columbus before inventorying it, and had to call bomb technicians upon finding the explosives, which the techs X-rayed before dismantling the fuse-lit devices.

The next day state and local authorities added explosives specialists to a team serving a search warrant at the Talbotton home Ragan shared with his father.

There officers seized what they believed to be the son’s bomb-making materials, including BBs, .410-gauge shotgun shells, two filters, two pill bottles, and 26 .32-caliber bullets, said Jeremy Dockins of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

They also took books, including “The Gun Digest of Assault Weapons” and “The Encyclopedia of Survival Techniques,” Dockins said.

He said the pill bottles could serve as canisters for shrapnel propelled by a gunpowder charge, and the filters could be used to sift the powder into the bottle. Fuses would ignite the charge, he said.

During his testimony Wednesday, Sgt. Deaton said Jacob Ragan was among the people who called 911 the day Hearn was killed.

Defense attorney Bill Mason had the jury hear a recording of the call, which Deaton said Ragan made from Columbus’ Gateway Road Walmart, near the Hearns’ home.

Ragan’s first call at 7:03 p.m. that Friday was disconnected, so 911 called him back. In rapid speech Ragan told the dispatcher “they pulled a weapon on me”; “I shot back”; and “I got PTSD,” meaning post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ragan’s mental state came up again Wednesday afternoon when the defense asked that Sheriff John Darr visit the courtroom. Without the jury present, Judge Gil McBride listened as Ragan complained to Darr that deputies were bullying him. Also his lawyer said the level of courtroom security seemed excessive.

In his mental condition, the stress of mistreatment could hinder his assisting in his own defense, Ragan said.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Cooley told McBride the security detail was appropriate in light of Ragan’s previous conviction for manslaughter, and for the protection of child witnesses who testified in the case. Offended, Ragan addressed Cooley, calling her “disrespectful” and adding, “You have no reason to fear me. I haven’t done anything wrong.” He then accused her of “coaching” the two children who testified Tuesday, saying, “You scarred them more than I did.”

Ragan’s complaints were settled with sheriff Maj. Mike Massey’s assurance he would substitute new deputies for the ones Ragan said mistreated him. The sheriff’s office is responsible for courtroom security.

Also testifying Wednesday was forensic pathologist Steven Atkinson, who conducted Hearn’s autopsy. He said a buckshot blast hit her in the upper right chest and left “stipling” or residue on the underside of her right arm, indicating she raised that arm over her face, palm out, as she was shot.

The shot was at such close range that two of the nine buckshot pellets exited her back, and the wad from the shell left an abrasion by the buckshot wounds, Atkinson said.

Mason asked Atkinson whether the position of Hearn’s arm would indicate she could not have been holding a revolver in her right hand. Atkinson said she could have been holding a gun.

Testimony this week showed Ragan, then 27, went to the Hearns’ home looking for his son, who was in the custody of his estranged wife, Holly Hearn’s sister.

Holly Hearn, 28, ran into her house when Ragan marched up wielding the shotgun, so he turned the gun on her husband Ryan, ordering him to kick in the home’s side door.

The door wouldn’t give, so Ryan Hearn ran toward the front door with Ragan chasing him. That’s when Holly Hearn came out the front door with a .38-caliber revolver she had retrieved from the couple’s bedroom. Ragan killed her just a few feet from her door.

Ryan Hearn turned and ran, and Ragan shot him in the right hip, shattering the femur and maiming his right hand. As Ryan Hearn tried to take cover by crawling under a car, Ragan walked over and tried to shoot him again, but the shotgun apparently jammed, a witness said.

Ragan then fled, but later surrendered to authorities in Harris County.

Several children were inside the Hearns’ home when the shooting occurred.

A girl, then 10, saw Holly Hearn dead on the ground outside and called 911. “My friend’s mom just got shot,” she told a dispatcher.

The Hearns’ son, then 4, was with his father when Ragan first threatened Ryan Hearn outside the house. “Please don’t shoot my dad,” the boy said he pleaded with Ragan.

In 2004 in Dayton, Ohio, Ragan pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison for fatally stabbing a man during a street brawl over a keg of beer, court documents and local news reports said.

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