Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Trial opens in Craven case

Alleged hit man faces death

By Jim Hannah, jhannah@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Ronald Scott Pryor beat and shot Delta Air Lines pilot Stephen Craven to death out of greed, a prosecutor said during opening arguments Monday in Mr. Pryor's capital murder trial.

        Mr. Pryor, 35, of Independence, spent the first installment of the $15,000 payoff he was to receive for the killing to fix his car and pay the phone and cable bills, said prosecutor Luke Morgan of Frankfort.

        He arrived in his car with his common-law wife and the children they cared for to pick up the second installment.

        Mr. Pryor told his boss he hit the lottery after receiving some of the money, Mr. Morgan said, and seemed happy.

        “This man is not the lottery,” Mr. Morgan told the jurors while pointing to a large picture of Mr. Craven sitting in a cockpit of an airplane.

        Mr. Pryor could face the death penalty if found guilty. Prosecutors say he was recruited by Mr. Craven's wife, Adele, and her lover, Rusty McIntire, to kill the 38-year-old father of two. Mr. Craven was found dead in the basement of his Edgewood home nearly two years ago.

        Mr. Morgan rapped a green crowbar, which he said was similar to the one used in the killing, on the concrete floor of the courtroom and talked in his nearly two-hour opening statement about the gun used and bullets recovered from a wooded area.

        The defense team, in its opening statement, didn't deny that Mr. Pryor used a crowbar and gun in the killing. Defense attorneys did say, however, that Mr. Pryor was a “slow thinker” who simply followed the order of someone he believed to be a trusted friend.

        In Kentucky, a person convicted of murder can face a sentence ranging from 25 years in prison to execution. If Mr. Pryor is found guilty, the same jury hearing the case will decide what level of punishment he could face.

        “You will hear evidence of a plan, evidence of manipulation and evidence of betrayal,” said defense attorney Tom Griffiths of Maysville.

        Mr. Griffiths told jurors that Mr. McIntire and Mrs. Craven couldn't find a hit man, so the two set their sights on someone easily coerced.

        In the weeks leading to the murder, Mr. Griffiths said, Mr. McIntire gained Mr. Pryor's trust and began telling him lies about Mr. Craven — including that he was an abusive father. Once Mr. McIntire planted the idea that Mr. Craven was a wife beater, he asked Mr. Pryor to beat up the Edgewood man. That, Mr. Griffiths said, was the beginning of a plot that would soon shift to homicide.

        Mr. Morgan outlined the elaborate plan which involved strategically placing a mirror so that Mr. Pryor could see Mr. Craven coming down the basement steps and acting on the code-phrase from Mrs. Craven: “The ferret is loose!”

        “Ron isn't like all the rest of us,” Mr. Griffiths said. “He is slow. Things are harder for him.” Mr. Pryor, dressed in blue chinos and a white oxford shirt, sat quietly as much of the day's testimony focused on Mr. McIntire and Mrs. Craven.

        Mr. McIntire, 33, of Erlanger has pleaded guilty to murder and is cooperating with the prosecution. He is expected to testify against Mr. Pryor in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

        Mrs. Craven will stand trial separately — beginning Oct. 29 — for her husband's death.

        The second day of testimony in Mr. Pryor's trial begins this morning with an hourlong taped police interrogation of Mr. Pryor. Mr. Pryor isn't expected to take the stand during his trial, which is scheduled to run through May 15.


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