By Brett Barrouquere, Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A North Carolina man serving 50 years in prison for his role in the disappearance and death of an ex-girlfriend won’t be allowed to try to show his attorney failed him at trial, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
The judges upheld the conviction of 49-year-old Leonard William Day in the May 1999 slaying of Tina Rae Stevens, who disappeared from a hotel near Burlington, Ky., in the southern suburbs of Cincinnati. Stevens’ remains were found in April 2000 in a remote section of Boone County.
Judge Christopher Shea Nickell wrote that Day’s trial attorney made reasonable strategic decisions in how he handled witnesses and who he chose to put on the witness stand.
“Thus, since we find no deficient performance nor any prejudice in the record before us, Day is not entitled to the relief he seeks,” Nickell wrote.
Day’s girlfriend at the time, 52-year-old Deborah Huiett, is serving a life sentence for murder.
Day and his employer, Robert Walker of North Carolina, went to Boone County, Ky., in May 1999 for an extended job installing fiber optic cable. The men rented separate hotel rooms so Walker’s wife and Huiett could accompany the men.
While in northern Kentucky, Walker met Stevens, Day’s former girlfriend, at a local bar. Walker took her to the motel, where she and Day rented an additional room. The next morning, Huiett contacted Walker and asked about Day’s whereabouts.
A week later, Day called Walker, who had returned to North Carolina, and told him the hotel kicked him out for fighting with Huiett. Hotel employees found the room Huiett and Day shared had been trashed, with broken glass and furniture tossed everywhere. The employees also noted that the walls in the room Day and Stevens shared had been sprayed with either bleach or water and the sheets on the bed did not belong to the hotel.
Stevens wasn’t seen alive again. Police investigated several leads for two years before focusing on Day and Huiett. Day initially told police that he fought with, then made amends with Huiett and watched Stevens leave on a bus.
In 2002, Day called police and changed his story, telling officers Huiett stabbed Stevens to death when she found the couple in the hotel room. Based on Day’s statements and comments Huiett made to others, police charged her with murder.
Police would charge Day with complicity to commit murder in July 2002, based on statements he made to other people.
Since then, Day has claimed his attorney botched the case and that he’s actually innocent.
“I have been incarcerated for ten years now for a crime I did not commit,” Day wrote in an online ad seeking a pen pal in 2012. “To say the least, it has been a nightmare, but I try and keep a positive attitude.”
Day claimed his attorney failed to subpoena or conduct an adequate search for an alternate suspect and should have called as a witness a woman who claimed to have seen Stevens alive two months after the slaying.
The trial attorney concluded it would be more beneficial to put on no witness rather than one that was unreliable, Nickell wrote.
“Trial counsel claimed he and Day agreed to focus on attacking the Commonwealth’s proof,” Nickell wrote.
Day also claimed a hotel receipt showed he did not have access to the room where Stevens was killed. Nickell wrote that the receipt doesn’t prove Day relinquished occupancy of the room before the slaying.
“The receipt, alone, does not establish his innocence,” Nickell wrote.