HUNTINGTON — A man’s trial set for Tuesday in a 2017 West Huntington homicide was delayed after the defendant requested DNA testing be done on the men who accused him of the crime.
Ronald Amory Witherel, 42, is charged with murder and first-degree robbery in the July 19, 2017, slaying of David Ralph in the 800 block of Virginia Avenue in Huntington. The first-degree robbery charge stems from the theft of a chain from around a man’s neck nine days prior to Ralph’s slaying, according to police.
Ahead of his trial date, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, Witherel requested his attorney have the DNA of the two men who accused him of being the killer tested and compared with the DNA found at the homicide scene.
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.
Ralph had suffered four injuries to his body, including one severe injury to his neck, most likely inflicted with a knife.
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, which were believed to have belonged to Witherel.
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 appeared in court with defense attorneys Kerry Nessel and Todd Meadows, as well as special prosecutor assigned to the case, Tom Plymale, Tuesday morning to ask for the trial date to be reset. Cabell Circuit Judge Gregory Howard set the trial for 9 a.m. Feb. 18, 2020.
In the meantime, an order will be filed seeking DNA samples from the two men.
Howard also has yet to rule on a motion which would sever the murder and robbery charges into two separate trials. The severance was requested after Witherel said he would like to testify to one accusation, but not the other.
Attorneys previously said they were concerned the case witnesses would be hard to track down for trial and DNA testing; however, one of the men appeared at Tuesday’s court hearing and was told to return to testify at the trial date.
He is currently under supervision in the STAR program in Lawrence County and will be on probation at the trial date, leaving attorneys to believe it would not be an issue for him to return to testify.
The other witness is believed to be somewhere in Ohio currently.
Witherel will remained housed at Western Regional Jail in Barboursville.