Cornett already had funeral plans

December 14, 2004|BOBBIE CURD

Kentucky State Police Detective Monte Owens testified at a preliminary hearing Monday that Ronnie Gay Cornett left cash and funeral plans with a longtime friend and business partner the day before he was arrested.

Cornett was charged Dec. 2 with planning to kill his ex-wife Kathleen, her attorney Eileen O'Brian and Family Court Judge Bruce Petrie.

Owens testified that Tom McClain met with the defendant the day before his arrest and was given two documents and $5,000 in cash.

"Mr. Cornett informed Mr. McClain that the cash was to pay for his funeral," Owens said.

The two documents entered into evidence were instructions for McClain on how to handle matters after Cornett was gone, and a eulogy that he authored for his own funeral.


"McClain brought the documents to Scott Crosbie, an attorney in Lexington who was working on the divorce appeal for Mr. Cornett, who then contacted authorities and turned over the documents," Owens said, adding that McClain went to the attorney because he was concerned about Cornett's intentions and his frame of mind after reading the documents.

Owens read the documents out loud in the courtroom, and within them were orders from Cornett to, "Be sure my funeral is one day after Kathleen's," as well as apologizing to McClain for leaving him "with this mess."

"Since we're both dead"

One document also instructed McClain to argue that the payments ordered in the divorce decree be null and void "since we're both dead," referring to himself and his ex-wife, and that claims from "O'Brian's and Petrie's estates" would probably be made against him.

Cornett was scheduled to appear in court at 9 a.m. Dec. 2 in answer to an emergency order of protection. He had allegedly made death threat via phone to Kathleen Cornett's residence on Nov. 6. The court appearance had been previously rescheduled due to Cornett being out of state.

Owens went on to testify that Sheila Haggin, Cornett's fiance, showed police the two loaded guns in their residence, one belonging to Cornett, and a briefcase he had brought home the night before. She claimed to have no knowledge of the contents.

The briefcase contained $10,000 in cash and a card to Cornett's sister apologizing for his actions and asking her to take care of his father.

"Ms. Haggin did confide in me that Mr. Cornett told her that he planned to kill the three people," Monte Owens said.

Haggin also allowed them to search their Chevy Tahoe.

Gun hidden in folder

An accordion folder was found in the back of the vehicle, and inside was a thick stack of papers, appearing to be court documents, with legal paper pads on each end.

"When I pulled the folder out, I noticed it was heavy for paper," Owens said. He looked into the folder to find "a perfect cutout with a .45 pistol, fully loaded, with a spare magazine included."

There were a total of 15 rounds, including the magazine already in the gun.

Owens also testified that Bob Miller, a local insurance agent, reported that Cornett called his office on Nov. 30 asking about life insurance policies with his grandchildren listed as beneficiaries.

He paid for the policies in full soon after.

"With everything we found during our investigation, we just could not let this go any longer," Owens said.

Defense attorney Kathryn Wood, a partner of Mark Stanziano, cross examined Owens. She continually asked the detective what proof he had that Cornett had verbalized an intent to carry out his alleged plan. Owens responded that the documents were specific enough to support a murder plot, as well as the statements made by Haggin.

When Wood asked for specifics, Owens repeated what he had already testified to, but added that Haggin also told police that Cornett had threatened her, telling her "not to let the cat out of the bag or she couldn't be protected."

Why did police stake out the apartment?

Wood also asked Owens more than once why police chose to stake out Cornett and Haggin's apartment rather than "knock on the door and let him know about the information you'd received."

"Because it would not have been safe," Owens said. "That's why the special response team was called in, or S.W.A.T. for lack of a better name, because this was considered a high risk arrest due to the information we had received."

Boyle County Attorney Richard Bottoms requested bail be set at $3 million, which Stanziano referred to as a "Hollywood amount" because the defendant would not be able to post it.

Judge Ralph McClanahan asked for a recess and met with both sides in his chambers.

"Due to the totality of this incident, the statements made by Sheila Haggin, and especially the outstanding bench warrant that Mr. Cornett had, I set the bail at $1.5 million," McClanahan said.

Bail would be conditional. Cornett would have to stay 1,000 feet from Judge Petrie, his ex-wife and her attorneys, and he could not leave the country or have any firearms of any type in his possession.

Cornett was held to the grand jury. The next grand jury meets Jan. 14.

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