Editors Note: This story has been updated with edited information due to an error.
Ronald Lee, who was arrested in February and charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder of his soon-to-be ex-wife, Loretta Williams, in November 2018, pleaded not guilty in a hearing Tuesday.
Lee, 71, has remained in the Union County Jail since his arrest. Tuesday’s hearing was to state his plea, and for the State of Oregon to prove that he is rightfully being held without bail.
Lee is accused of having shot and killed Williams at her Cove home. She called 911 about 1:40 a.m. about a man in her yard, and dispatchers overheard a confrontation in the background and a loud noise before losing contact with her, according to the 911 call. When officers arrived they found Williams dead of one or more apparent gunshot wounds, The Observer previously reported.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the state submitted 50 pieces of evidence in addition to witness testimony to prove there is reason to hold Lee without bail. Evidence included the 911 call Williams made, testimony from Union County Sheriff’s Office lead detective Jason McKaig and ballistics information.
When McKaig took the stand, Union County District Attorney Kelsie McDaniel asked him to detail the events that led up to during and after Nov. 17, 2018, when Williams was killed in her home. McDaniel asked Det. McKaig questions regarding the case and the evidence they had found as part of the investigation.
Prior to her death, Williams and Lee were going through a tumultuous divorce, McKaig said. The record and testimony by McKaig showed Williams filed for divorce on July 18, 2018.
According to McKaig’s investigation and court documents, during this time Lee had hired an associate, Deva Williams to drive him around because Lee's license had been suspended for driving under the influence of intoxicants.
According to McKaig’s testimony, Williams recalled Lee making statements about wanting to kill his wife and saying he could kill her and get away with it. Also according to McKaig’s testimony, Williams said Lee’s behavior was getting increasingly erratic and violent in November 2018, and he planned to stop acting as Lee’s driver.
During this time, Loretta Williams’ friends and family said, she had begun making plans for the future, including getting a new job and selling the house. The divorce depositions were set for a week after Thanksgiving, five days before she was killed.
The audio of the 911 call Williams made the night she was murdered was played for the court Tuesday. In it Williams can be heard talking about a man in her yard wearing a black jacket. The dispatcher asks for her address, and Williams identifies the man in her yard as her husband, Ron Lee, according to McKaig and the judge’s remarks regarding the 911 call, which lasted about two minutes.
In the recording, Williams yells, “Ron Lee, stop!” The sounds of gunshots and glass breaking are heard, and Williams cries out that she has been shot. In all, a total of five shots can be heard on the audio.
“It’s the victim of a homicide speaking beyond the grave,” McDaniel said.
When the Union County Sheriff’s deputies and Oregon State Police troopers arrived at the scene, they found the house’s sliding glass back door had been shattered and Williams was dead on the floor between the dining room and the kitchen, according to McKaig’s testimony.
Within a few hours, the police found Lee in his trailer, McKaig said Tuesday. When told of his wife’s death, Lee did not seem upset by the news, McKaig said. Lee later agreed to an interview with the police. In the interview he described Williams as “crazy” and as having suicidal tendencies, and he claimed he was the one who wanted the divorce, according to McKaig’s testimony. During the investigation, Lee told the detectives he had “spent a lot of money on her,” and in the hearing McKaig stated Lee had said this in reference to paying for Williams’ mental health treatment.
A trial date has not yet been set, to give the attorneys time to work out their schedules and file any pretrial motions. Lee will remain in custody at the Union County Jail. The trial is expected to take at least one month, and the prosecution, according to McDaniel, intends to call upward of 80 witnesses to help explain the events that led up to Williams’ death.