Jury hits Ragland with $63.3 million verdict

bortiz@herald-leader.com

Shane Ragland, at left, and Trent DiGiuro
Shane Ragland, at left, and Trent DiGiuro

Jerry Ragland, at left, and Mike DiGiuro DiGiuro’s parents, Ann and Mike DiGiuro, right, talked to their attorney, Thomas Conway, after a court recess  Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Trent DiGiuro was killed outside this house on Woodland Avenue in July 1994 while celebrating his upcoming 21st birthday. The case went unsolved for years.  1994 Herald-Leader file photo

A Lexington jury hit Shane Ragland with a record-setting $63.3 million verdict on Tuesday for fatally shooting University of Kentucky football player Trent DiGiuro in 1994.

The Fayette Circuit Court jury deliberated for less than an hour before deciding on $60 million in punitive damages and $3.3 million for lost income and funeral expenses. The verdict came in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by DiGiuro’s family.

Shane Ragland, the son of a wealthy Frankfort businessman, is a free man now because his 2002 murder conviction was overturned. But the verdict means DiGiuro’s slaying will not go unpunished, said Trent DiGiuro’s father, Mike.

“I hope the message that it sends is that money can’t buy you everything,” he said.

The verdict is the second-largest ever in Kentucky and the largest ever to come out of Fayette County. The next-largest in Fayette, $15.3 million, was in a 1996 drunken-driving case.

Shane Ragland’s father, Jerry, said that he was not surprised by the verdict. He said the lawsuit should have been tossed out because it was filed two years after his son’s arrest.

The statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits is one year. But the state Supreme Court has ruled that the clock does not start ticking in murder cases until after the conviction.

“I anticipated a ridiculous amount, but we never should have been up there in the first place,” Jerry Ragland said in a telephone interview.

The victory for the DiGiuro family, however, could prove only symbolic. Ragland, who was imprisoned for four years, has few assets to his name.

But it does mean that the DiGiuros can claim any inheritance Ragland receives from his father.

“It is not a hollow victory,” said Tom Conway, the DiGiuro family’s attorney.

The DiGiuros are now entitled to pore through Ragland’s personal finances as long as the judgment is in effect.

Civil judgments must be renewed every 15 years. That’s almost certain to happen as long as Ragland is alive.

“We are bound and determined to make sure that he does not have any money to cat around on,” Mike DiGiuro testified during the trial.

Conway said the family can force Ragland to take depositions to explain how he is paying bills and making ends meet. They can garnishee wages, attach liens on property and examine bank statements.

The family can make claims for any gifts he receives from his father. And the debt cannot be evaded through bankruptcy, Conway said.

If Ragland doesn’t cooperate, the DiGiuros can ask that he be held in contempt of court.

“There are very many ways to make sure he isn’t living the easy life,” Conway said.

Jerry Ragland declined to say where his son lives now, or how he supports himself.

“He’s trying to get his life back together,” Jerry Ragland said. “He’s trying to get over this nightmare.”

In his closing statement, Conway said the criminal justice system failed DiGiuro, a walk-on offensive lineman at UK from Goshen. He asked the jury not to let Ragland, the admitted killer, beat the system again.

“I’m going to ask you to recognize not only their loss, but to recognize how much suffering and agony Shane Ragland caused,” Conway said. “To tell him and the world once and for all that this kind of behavior shall not go unpunished.”

Conway asked jurors to start their deliberations at $50 million, the symbolic settlement offer that Ragland’s attorney had made.

Ragland was convicted of murder in 2002, but the state Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 2006.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter last year in the case and was sentenced to time served plus three days.

Neither Ragland nor his attorney, Steve Romines, was present at the civil trial.

Romines has said there would be no point in Ragland’s defending himself in the suit. He’s already pleaded guilty, so he can’t argue innocence.

And Ragland is not going to argue that DiGiuro’s life wasn’t worth anything, Romines has said.

By not participating, Ragland effectively waived his right to appeal anything that happened during the trial, Conway said. He still can appeal pre-trial rulings.

Romines has said that he will file an appeal arguing that the lawsuit was not filed in time. The Kentucky Supreme Court, however, has already ruled on a similar appeal by Ragland once before.

Maintains innocence

Shane Ragland has steadfastly maintained innocence — even after his guilty plea.

Jerry Ragland said the trial was a sham.

He said prosecutors offered Shane Ragland a plea deal because they knew they could not convict him a second time around.

Jerry Ragland noted that an FBI expert, Kathleen Lundy, had lied during a pre-trial hearing in his son’s case.

“Most of what was said (in the civil trial) was Kathleen Lundy type stuff,” Jerry Ragland said.

The two-day wrongful-death trial produced a few new details that had not been public.

James “Chip” Adams II of Madisonville testified Tuesday that Ragland had told him in October 1991, some two years before the slaying, that he was going to kill DiGiuro.

Adams was in Lexington visiting his stepbrother, a student at UK and member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

The brothers attended a sorority party. Ragland, who was pledging the same fraternity, was acting as designated driver for party-goers that night.

Adams said he wanted to leave the party early and Ragland gave him a ride. The two drank and drove around Lexington for several hours.

While sitting in the frat house parking lot, Ragland asked Adams whether he knew DiGiuro. Ragland’s demeanor changed, and he said he was going to kill the football player, Adams said.

Ragland said it with such intensity and conviction that it scared Adams.

“It sent an adrenaline shot through me that I will never forget,” Adams said. “I will never forget the look on that guy’s face when he said that. It hit me right between the eyes.”

Months after the July 1994 slaying, Adams ran into Ragland at a UK football game. With the same intensity he had shown three years earlier, Ragland asked whether Adams had ever told anyone about their conversation, Adams said.

Adams said he came forward only after Ragland’s conviction was overturned in 2006. He said he regrets not speaking out sooner.

“That guy didn’t deserve that,” Adams said. “I don’t care if everything Shane said about him were true. This is for him, and this is for me.”

Officer Don Evans, the lead detective in the case, testified that Ragland blamed DiGiuro for being blackballed from the fraternity in 1991.

Conway said Ragland plotted the shooting for years.

Ragland’s ex-girlfriend, Aimee Lloyd, testified at the murder trial that he had confessed to the slaying in April 1995. Ragland described how he stuffed a high-powered rife with a scope into a duffle bag and biked to an alley between houses on Woodland Avenue, Lloyd said.

DiGiuro was shot on his front porch as he was celebrating his forthcoming 21st birthday.

Lloyd’s testimony in the 2002 trial was replayed to jurors. She is now in a witness protection program. Prosecutors agreed to a plea deal with Ragland only because Lloyd did not agree to testify in a second trial, they have said.

Lloyd’s attorney, Tom Bullock, has said she still fears for her life.

“She’ll have to live the rest of her life under a different name, while Shane Ragland lives free,” Conway told jurors. “And I don’t have a doubt in mind that if he knew where she was, he would kill her.”

Donation plans

If the family collects any of the verdict, Mike DiGiuro said it plans to donate most of it to the Trent DiGiuro Foundation, which provides scholarships to Oldham County athletes and walk-on football players at UK.

Trent DiGiuro was a walk-on at UK in 1991. Smaller schools had shown interest, but he wanted to see whether he could make it at UK, Mike DiGiuro said.

By 1993, DiGiuro began to get playing time. He was projected to start at right guard before the 1994 season and had been promised a scholarship, Mike DiGiuro said.

Trent DiGiuro’s mother, Anne, testified that he was a hard worker, a loyal friend and caring person. She told a story about how he regularly went out of his way in grade school to cheer up a classmate who had severe burns and did not have many friends.

Mike DiGiuro said the family is glad the 14-year saga is nearing an end.

“Our loss is very personal to us, no more so than any other family who has lost a child,” DiGiuro testified. “The difference is we’ve had to share this loss with the entire community for 14 years.”

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