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Willie Layne takes the stand in his trial for 2017 fatal beating

March 1, 2019
Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch Willie David Layne attends trial Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, at the Cabell County Courthouse in Huntington. Layne and Michael Ray Hughes are charged with murder in the July 7, 2017, beating death of Ricky Allen Roach.

HUNTINGTON — One of the two men accused of fatally beating a man in 2017 took the stand in a trial Thursday, testifying he lied to police about certain details to protect his alleged co-conspirators.

Willie David Layne, 25, told jurors he only pushed Ricky Allen Roach after Roach allegedly made a derogatory sexual statement about Virginia Louise Curry, Layne’s love interest. Following the push, Roach fell to the ground and passed out from too much alcohol, Layne said. He later placed his leg on Roach’s chin to teach him a lesson.

Layne had originally told police he “knocked Roach out with one punch.”

Layne and Michael Ray Hughes, 52, are charged with murder in the July 7, 2017, beating death of Roach. Police believe a confrontation started between Layne and Roach, with Hughes joining in, while they were all drinking together along the railroad tracks near the 1st Street underpass in Huntington.

A passer-by found Roach lying unconscious at about 3 a.m. July 7, 2017, behind a business near the 1st Street underpass and the railroad tracks. Police found Roach dead approximately two hours later.

Curry, 28, pleaded guilty to malicious wounding in October for kicking Roach at least once. She has a sentencing hearing scheduled March 14.

Layne said he lied to police about knocking Roach out with one punch because he wanted to reassure Curry that he would always protect her. He also did not initially tell police that Curry had kicked Roach once in the head.

“I didn’t want her to get in trouble,” he said. “I was trying to protect her.”

Layne testified he never kicked Roach while Roach was lying unconscious on the ground. He testified that Hughes kicked Roach in the head and chest more than 30 times.

He initially didn’t tell detectives about the number of times Hughes allegedly kicked Roach because he didn’t want Hughes to get in trouble, he said.

He said while Hughes was kicking the unconscious victim, he stood back and was too terrified to intervene. The two men went back and forth to where Roach was lying after Hughes allegedly said he wasn’t finished, Layne said.

At one point, Hughes allegedly said he wanted to slice Roach’s neck with a knife, Layne testified. Layne said he got on the ground and placed Roach in a choke hold to prevent Hughes from taking further action. After the altercation, Layne said he wanted to call 911, but Curry did not want to because she feared getting in trouble.

Defense attorneys who represent Hughes rested their case Thursday without Hughes taking the stand in his own defense. Prosecutors also rested their case after calling the lead detective and several forensic pathologists who performed DNA tests on clothing items worn by Roach, Layne and Hughes.

Jurors also heard from state medical examiner Andrea Orvik, who performed the autopsy on Roach. Orvik testified that Roach had bruising on and around his brain, with significant blunt-force injuries to his chest.

It’s not possible from the autopsy to show which kick or punch would have been fatal to Roach, Orvik said.

“There were so many injuries it’s impossible for me to even figure out how many times he was struck,” she said.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Friday, March 1, in Cabell Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell’s courtroom at the Cabell County Courthouse in Huntington.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.