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Trial date set for January in homicide of David Ralph

November 29, 2018

HUNTINGTON — After a 2017 Huntington murder and robbery suspect was assigned a new attorney, a Cabell County Circuit judge set a trial date in an effort to move the case forward.

Ronald Amory Witherel, 41, was indicted on charges of murder and first-degree robbery in December 2017 after he was accused in the July 19, 2017, slaying of David Ralph in the 800 block of Virginia Avenue in Huntington. The robbery charge stemmed from the alleged robbery of one of Ralph’s colleagues nine days before Ralph died.

Several witness statements and what police suspected to be Witherel’s bloody fingerprint placed him at the scene, and police said at the time alcohol might have been a factor in the attack.

For a reason undisclosed at a Tuesday hearing in Cabell Circuit Judge Gregory Howard’s courtroom, Witherel was reassigned defense attorneys, from Russ Cook to Kerry Nessel.

With the change, Howard set a Jan. 22 trial date for Witherel, even though Nessel said he would need more time to prepare for the case and to receive DNA evidence back from the state crime lab.

Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney Tom Plymale, the special prosecutor on the case, said the crime lab had tested stains on Witherel’s clothing and identified it as blood, but those samples had not yet been DNA tested.

The case has been delayed as sides wait for that testing and due to previous counsel’s successful request to disqualify Cabell prosecutors from the case.

On the night of the homicide, Ralph’s live-in girlfriend told police she woke up after hearing a noise and saw Witherel, who had worked for the victim’s construction business, standing inside the home. He left and she tended to the victim, who later died.

Witherel’s girlfriend at the time told police the pair had left their home with two men earlier in the evening and drove Witherel to the victim’s home on the evening of Ralph’s death. One of the men later directed detectives to bloody jeans and shoes in a garbage can in South Point, Ohio.

Although Witherel told the men a dog had bitten him, the men told detectives that Witherel was wearing bloody clothing and had high adrenaline when he left the victim’s home.

Witherel remains housed at Western Regional Jail in Barboursville. Nessel said he planned to ask for a reduced bond.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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