Murder trial continues

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 20, 2003

The first day of the murder trial of Ronald Lee Little concluded with testimony from patrons of the VFW post 3454 near the site where the body of A.D. Harris was found on Feb. 16, 2001, and with the first part of a videotaped deposition from Dr. John Krowlikowski who performed the autopsy on the victim.

Sarah Jo Cunningham, wife of Post Commander Ray Cunning-ham, testified about receiving a call from Willene Little, who she said was trying to get in touch with her husband as the Post Commander. Cunning-ham was the one to call 911 after she told her husband that Mrs. Little said there had been a fight at the club.

Witnesses James Walker, J.W. Petty, and Edward Green ap-peared separately and testified about the events of the day, much of which seemed to correlate with the earlier testimony given by former Covington County Sheriff's Department investigator Dennis Meeks and former acting Gantt Police Chief Greg Jackson, both of whom received unsolicited statements from the defendant the night of the murder.

Petty said there were those who complained about Harris living in his car near the post and said "Ron (Little) said it wasn't a decent place to be living."

The videotaped deposition of Dr. Krowlikowski was then presented to the jury, along with a printed transcript of what was said. Krowlikowski explained that the cause of death was due to the two stab wounds on the neck, and that the wounds were different in nature, with wound on the right side of the neck a stab wound, the result of a thrusting action. He said the wound on the left side of the neck, several inches longer, but shallower, was the result of a "slashing" motion. Both cuts, he said, severed soft tissue, with the left wound cutting into the cartilage of the windpipe and the right wound severing the carotid artery.

Krowlikowski said he believed the force required to make the left incision required slight to moderate force, the equivalent of "cutting a melon" while the right wound required moderate force, equivalent to cutting an uncooked cabbage.

When asked about "arterial spurt"- the pattern left by blood from a wound when it is under pressure- Krowlikowski said the right cut could have had such a spurt, but "not necessarily."

"If there's closed tissue against (the severed artery), it might not spurt," he said.

On the second day of the trial, the rest of video deposition was followed by other employees of the Alabama Department of Forensic Science (ADFS) who corroborated the receipt and examination of the evidence.

Ann Newton, the evening bartender at the VFW, testified that Little seemed "belligerent," and that Little had said "it wasn't good for the post to have trash hang around."

Then, as Little was leaving, Newton testified, he told her "It was time to get rid of some of the trash around this place. She also said Little had told her he could "get rid of anybody and nobody could prove it" and that of they tried to prove it, "I can say I'm crazy."

The defense called witnesses to testify that Little did not have a reputation of being violent. Among those were his wife's daughter-in-law, Cindy Stroud, and a former coworker. Mrs. Little also testified, giving her view of the events of the afternoon and evening of Feb. 16, 2001. Mrs. Little said that she had seen Harris exhibit violent behavior toward Little once when Little told Harris he could not help him fill out some disability forms because Harris had not gotten the forms together.

"A.D. (Harris) got mad and pulled a knife out," said Mrs. Little.

Little then took the stand himself and gave his version of the events of that day.

Little, who like the murder victim is a Vietnam veteran, told the jury that part of his Army training included special forces hand-to-hand combat and danger assessment. He also said he was suffering from Parkinson's disease, prostate cancer, has had two heart attacks and one stroke. He said he is also under psychiatric care for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as a result of the combat he saw in his three tours of Vietnam.

Little's testimony was similar to the statements Meeks and Jackson said he gave the night of the murder, up to the point when he said Harris flagged him down. In his testimony Thursday, Little said Harris said he needed help starting his car, parked under the power lines a short distance away from the VFW. Little said he got out to examine the ground to see if it was safe to drive his car up and jump start Harris's vehicle. At that time, said Little, Harris told him he didn't need help with the car.

Little said Harris told him he wanted money and he wanted the defendant to take him to get alcohol. When Little refused, he testified that Harris "backed him up" against his (Harris's) car and verbally threatened him.

"I wasn't a match for that man and I knew it," said Little. "I tried my best to get him to stop and he wouldn't stop."

At that point, he said he drew his knife. Little demonstrated how he swung at Harris. According to his testimony, his first blow would have been the one on the left side of Harris' neck, and the second blow on the right. He said that when he "swiped" at Harris the first time, he thought the man would see the knife and back off.

"But I must have just p--- him off more," said Harris.

Little said that after the second blow, the knife "stuck."

"When I pulled it out, he kind of looked all wide-eyed and said 'S--' or something like that," said Little, who added that Harris then "just fell."

He said he fell to his knees himself and "went black."

The rest of his testimony matched that of his wife's, from the point where he told her until the police arrived. "The next thing I know, they're reading me my rights, put the cuffs on me and put me in the patrol car," he said.

Little said he was not aware at the time that he had been charged with Harris's murder.

"I thought I was just protecting myself, " he said. "I don't want to hurt nobody, I saw enough killing in Vietnam."

During cross examination, Gambril asked Little about several inconsistencies between his testimony that day, and the statement Meeks testified he gave the night of Harris's death. Little re-read the statement and said that parts were let out.

"I was just talking," said Little. "I was so messed up and confused and scared…"

"Of course you were scared," said Gambril. "You killed a man."

Gambril continued to address differences between the two versions, including the absence of the "backing up," verbal threats, and money demands.

Little called the statement provided by Meeks "untrue" and said he "had no idea what I told him (Meeks)." At one point, Little also said he couldn't remember if he had been read his rights.

After a brief recess, the state called the last witness, Phillip Franklin, who testified that he drove up to the VFW that day just as Little was leaving, and he had seen no sign of Harris on the road.

Judge Ashley McKathan then addressed the jury, saying they would meet Friday morning for closing arguments from the defense and the prosecution.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second story in the series covering the murder trial of Ronald Lee Little which began Wednesday, Nov. 19.