These guys are talking about control.

(two interestin


 

 

 

 
48 Hours Nashville Blues 10.21.06 Run Dates
  10.21.06 48 Hours Nashville Blues
 

 

 
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Oct. 21, 2006
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Randy Hardison (CBS)


Quote

"He was just ... one of the finest people that you'd ever have the chance to meet. He's the last person you could ever imagine somebody wanting to hurt."

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Lee Ann Womack


(CBS) In a Nashville recording studio, old friends have come together to make the music they love — country music. On hand are keyboardist Jim "Moose" Brown, bass player Kevin "Swine" Grant and songwriter Wynn Varble.

They're considered the best of the best along Nashville's music row but tonight, one special member of their musical family is missing from the mix: Randy Hardison.

"He was such a part of our lives, it's hard to believe, even still, that he's not here," says Jim Brown, who adds that the whole town misses Randy.

Randy, 41, was a player.

"He's probably one of the most talented people in this town but you would never know by talking to him," says Varble.

"He had been nominated as drummer of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards and had had several big cuts by big artists," adds Brown.

Randy's friends include artists like country star Darryl Worley. "He could do anything. Drums, singing, playing guitar, writing songs," Worley recalls. "Randy was getting ready to set this town on its ear. He had the momentum."

"He would have gone on to be probably one of the people that changed the business," says Lee Ann Womack, who is a superstar now but was a new kid on the block when she met Randy.

"He was one of the first people that I met when I came to town, one of the first real friendships that I had," she remembers.

Asked if Randy opened some doors for her and helped her career, Womack says: "Oh absolutely. Randy introduced me to a lot of other singer/songwriters and taught me a lot about writing. I was just a new writer and just learning how."

Randy wrote a song that appeared on her second gold album, and is one of her favorites, titled "When The Wheels Are Coming Off."

Randy's lyrics could warm your heart but they could also really make you laugh. "He's got some funny stuff like 'Beauty's in the eyes of the beer holder,' " jokes Varble.

Randy's humor was the stuff of legends in Nashville. "He kept everyone in stitches all the time," remembers Worley.

"He used to tell me he couldn't get a date in a woman's prison with a handful of pardons," says Jim Brown.

"It wasn't true. Randy Hardison had more girlfriends than you could shake a stick at," explains Worley. "His wit and his charm and his ability to make people happy. Just make your feet lift up off the ground."

Randy grew up in Inola, Okla., population 988. By the time he was 8 years old, his mother Becky says Randy got his first guitar; by age 14 he was playing drums.

As his talent grew, so did his Nashville dream.

"I worried about him going out there," remembers Becky. "He was barely out of high school. But he was a very independent boy. He could take care of himself."

But in June 2002, Randy's long journey from Oklahoma to country music stardom was over. A neighbor discovered Randy lying just outside his apartment in a pool of blood.

"Looked like somebody had poured a bucket of blood on the ground," recalls Jack Crawford, who lived next door. "I didn't know what to think. All I was worried about was making sure my family was OK and to call an ambulance for this man to get some help."

Immediately, friends from all over Nashville descended on the hospital to be at Randy's side. "I asked what happened and the nurse said, 'Well, we think he fell off a ladder,' " Jim Brown remembers.

From all appearances, Randy had simply fallen and hit his head on the cement.

Jim and Kevin tried to talk to Randy but say he couldn't remember a thing. But Randy's friends, like Worley, knew better. "The first thing out of my mouth, I said, 'He didn't fall off no ladder. Somethin' has happened.' "
 



Six months earlier, Randy had begun helping Catina Skipper, a budding singer from Lakeland, Fla. But helping became much, much more.

Kevin Grant tells Van Sant that Randy told him he thought he was falling for her. "That's all. He might have said falling in love but that, I mean, that don't sound like his diction."

Randy was a little worried. After all, Catina was married. "He'd make crazy, silly remarks, you know, about this woman was gonna be the death of him," remembers Worley.

Was Randy playing with fire getting romantically involved with Catina? "I think so," says Worley.

Randy's friends say Catina's husband, Ronnie Skipper, began calling him, threatening him.

"He told me that Ronnie said he was gonna kill him," says Jim. "I could tell he was nervous about it, but it was more joking, ya know. He said, 'Hey if anything happens to me, it's Ronnie Skipper.' And he kinda laughed it off."

But no one was laughing now. Randy's friends were convinced he had been attacked and that the person responsible was Ronnie Skipper.

"It was a person strong enough to hit him with such force, with one punch that it knocked him backwards without him ever putting his hands down to brace himself and he hit his head on the concrete and fractured his skull," says Jim Brown.

On June 4, 2002, three days after being rushed to the hospital, Randy Hardison slipped into a coma and died.

"We didn't stop believing and praying for him until we knew he was gone. But I just didn't get there in time to really talk to him. I wish I had. But he knew I loved him," Worley tearfully recalled.

"I didn't really ever get to share … didn't get to share a lot of the things, you know, that I ended up being able to do, in great part thanks to him," adds Womack.

Randy's death quieted Nashville's music row. "It was like a big ole blanket, like a wool blanket or a cloud just fell on the place. Music row just kind of had the wind knocked out of it," says Worley.

With Randy now gone, his friends turned their attention to the man they say was responsible for his death.

When Ronnie Skipper met Catina at a Mickey D's in Lakeland, Fla., it was love at first bite. "There is such thing as love at first sight. But I had sight of her, but until you talk to somebody, you really learn more about them," he says.

Ronnie was 18 at the time; Catina was 16 years old.

The teenagers started dating. At first, Catina was quiet, reluctant to talk about her past. "She had actually never really known her dad, her real dad. She lived with her grandparents. And her mom had committed suicide," Ronnie explains.

Shortly after she turned 17, Catina moved in with Ronnie. "And it was just one night, we were by ourselves and I asked her, you know, if she would marry me. And she said, 'Yes,' " he recalls.

The pair married in the spring of 1990.

 



Ronnie went into construction, worked hard, and soon was running his own successful company. It helped to finance his other passion in life, stock car racing.

"I love racing," he explains. "Racing takes you to a different place. You're in a car. You're by yourself. You think about nothing else but what you're doing at that moment. It's just an adrenaline rush. It takes you places."

Among the fans was his wife, Catina. They've stayed together despite the affair and Ronnie's suspected involvement in Randy's death.

Eventually, Ronnie owned two race cars and dreamed of becoming a NASCAR driver. Catina, meanwhile, was racing in another direction.

Asked to describe her voice, Ronnie says, "Oh it's awesome. If you had to compare it to somebody — Lee Ann Womack, Allison Krause. I mean, she can sing just as good as they can."

Catina began winning country music talent competitions and she knew exactly where she wanted to go. In December 2001, she headed to Nashville.

"Catina Skipper was like thousands of people who come to Nashville every year," remembers Nashville journalist and music writer Beverly Keel. "For her to become a country music recording star, she would absolutely have to meet either a producer or a song writer or somebody who could create for her a demo that could capture the ears of record labels."

But for Catina to record a demo, it was going to take tens of thousands of dollars and Ronnie says he decided to sacrifice his dream for hers. "Everything that I had. I had two cars and I sold it in order for her to pursue her music career," he recalls.

Why did he do that?

"Because I love her. She had a better chance of making it than I did."

Catina took Ronnie's race car money and hired the best studio musicians she could find. And that's where she met Randy Hardison.

"And we played on this album project for her. And afterwards, we all went out and had a drink," remembers Jim Brown.

Randy offered to lend a hand with Catina's career, just as he had done with superstars Worley and Womack.

"Here I sit today, you know, platinum albums later and No. 1s and awards and things like that. Somebody like Randy is invaluable," Womack says.

"You have to meet someone like that," says Worley. "You have to find somebody that has the inside connections. That believes in you. She was in good hands."

Catina now had a demo and a new boyfriend and Ronnie had a broken heart.

Ronnie admits he felt betrayed. "I felt devastated 'cause this is the person I put my whole heart into," he says.

In April 2002, Catina told him she was having an affair. Ronnie got angry and admits he hit Catina. "We were just kind of scuffling, guess you would say. And I busted her nose," he admits. "You know, not meaning to."

But Ronnie swears he didn't lash out at Randy Hardison because, he says, he didn't know who Catina was sleeping with.

"I asked. She said she didn't want to go into that. She says she didn't want to tell me," he says.

 



Randy Hardison's friend Kevin Grant calls that a blatant lie. "Randy told me personally, Ronnie called and threatened him," Grant says.

But Ronnie maintains he never threatened to kill Randy.

While Randy was in the hospital fighting for his life, his friends went to his apartment and found a message on his answering machine confirming their worst fears.

"Hey, Randy, you all right? That's what you get for messin' with other people's wives. Don't make me come up there again," the message said.

Jim Brown says he immediately knew it was Ronnie Skipper, hearing the recording. Randy's friends delivered that message to Nashville homicide Det. Brad Corcoran.

The message, Corcoran says, was a big clue. "We started to try to locate Ronnie to find out is there anything to this."

Ronnie admits the answering machine message sounds like something a "jealous mad husband" would say, but he swears it's not his voice that can be heard on the tape.

Then, just as investigators closed in on Ronnie Skipper, a phone call came in to police headquarters from a man who says he killed Randy Hardison. But it's not Ronnie Skipper.

In June 2002, Det. Corcoran was focusing all his attention on the death of Randy Hardison, and the ominous message left on Randy's answering machine.

Corcoran believed Randy's death was a crime of passion. Asked who had reason to be jealous, Corcoran said, "Ronnie Skipper."

The autopsy report indicated that Randy had been punched. "He had an injury to his left eye and had a hairline fracture. It could have simply been a fist, or a fist that had a large ring on it," says Corcoran.

But just two days into his investigation, the case is turned upside down when an unexpected phone call came into the homicide bureau, from a man named Julius.

Talking to Corcoran, "Julius" claimed to be in Nashville and went on to say he was hired to beat up Randy Hardison by a Dr. Jones.

"I done told y'all the man gave me $5,000 to beat this guy up. I hit him and he fell and hit his head and now he's dead and I can't do nothin' about it," Julius told police.

Suddenly Corcoran had another potential suspect. Was Randy having an affair with the wife of a Dr. Jones?

And investigators did track down a Dr. Jones. Using information from the Julius calls, investigators discovered that Dr. Jones was a mild mannered Nashville eye doctor, family man, and — according to Corcoran — the furthest thing from a jealous husband.

"Dr. Jones was a very pleasant man. His wife was very delightful as well," says Corcoran, who realized he was being conned. "There was nothing that indicated they had anything to do with this," he adds.

But the Julius lead wasn't a dead end. Corcoran traced the "Julius" phone calls and discovered they didn't originate in Tennessee, but came from a cell phone in Lakeland, Fla., Ronnie Skipper's hometown.

 



Detective Corcoran was sure the Julius voice wasn’t Ronnie’s. But he wondered if Ronnie had somehow orchestrated the calls in an attempt to derail the investigation.

Ronnie says he knew nothing about the Julius. "At the time, I had no idea who was calling and claiming being Julius or why they would want to do that," he says.

But Ronnie had a theory that it might be Billy Herman, a close friend who was convinced of Ronnie's innocence and, on his own, thought he could derail the investigation.

"Where did Billy Herman get the name Dr. William Jones from Franklin Tennessee?" Van Sant asked Ronnie. "I guess he got it off the Internet somehow, just randomly picked this guy out."

But Billy Herman denies ever making those calls. "I didn't do it. And I don't care what nobody says, I did not do it."

But there’s one thing Ronnie does know. He had nothing to do with the death of Randy Hardison.

Asked who else might have had a motive to assault Randy, Ronnie Skipper says, "I know he had affairs with other women. Other husbands or other boyfriends had a motive too."

In fact, Ronnie claims it was one of those other men who left that chilling message on Randy's answering machine. Ronnie maintains he did not leave that message and that he has no idea whose voice it is.

Investigators took a voice sample of Ronnie Skipper, but Corcoran says results of that comparison were inconclusive. "We could never say that it was Ronnie or whoever," he says.

"There's nothing at all, no evidence at all, that would link me to Nashville, Tenn., on June 1," Ronnie says. What's more, he says some of his own workers can confirm he was nowhere near Nashville that day.

One worker, Clarence Zinc, told 48 Hours he and Skipper were working at a Walgreen's location in Sun City, Fla.

What's more, Catina also backs up her husband's alibi. Although she refused to sit down for an interview with 48 Hours, she told authorities she knew nothing about the attack on Randy.

But two former employees, including Tommy Maynard, tell a different story.

"There was only three people on that job site. It was me and two other guys and Ronnie was not one of them," claims Maynard.

Ronnie says Maynard is a disgruntled employee, seeking revenge, and called him a liar.

But Corcoran chose to believe Tommy Maynard; Ronnie Skipper had motive and means and in February 2003, Skipper was arrested for the death of Randy Hardison. He was charged with second degree murder.

Also arrested was Orlando Smith, another employee of Ronnie's. Corcoran believes Ronnie paid Smith to come with him to Nashville to ambush Randy.

"If Ronnie was having a problem with somebody, he'd send Orlando over to take care of the problem. So this was his strong arm," says Corcoran.

The crime appeared solved. But just as the trial was about to begin, Catina Skipper called Corcoran with a shocking revelation: she said she committed the homicide, that she had actually assaulted Randy and it wasn't Ronnie.

 



"It was a bombshell when Catina finally said, after I don't know how long, of letting her husband be charged with this murder that she changes her story totally and says 'I did it,' " explains Beverly Keel.

Catina's stunning confession came just two weeks before the start of her husband's murder trial.

"Why shouldn't we believe that Catina made this up to protect you?" Van Sant asks Ronnie Skipper.

"I don't really think that any woman would risk their life going to jail for second degree murder for any man. Husband or friend," he replies.

In spite of the dramatic turn, prosecutor Bret Gunn is convinced he had the right man and planned to use Catina's story to his advantage.

Asked why he thinks Catina's story would actually help the prosecution, Gunn says, "Because it's so unbelievable."

With Randy Hardison's mother and friends looking on, Bret Gunn begins opening arguments. Ad in a case full of surprises, Gunn drops his own bombshell

He drops the murder charges because he thinks Ronnie Skipper and Orlando Smith only meant to rough up Randy, not kill him. The new charges are reckless homicide and aggravated assault.

But defense attorney Rich McGee says Ronnie Skipper isn't guilty of any charge.

"You will not hear one witness testify that Ronnie Skipper was at the apartment complex on June 1 or any other day," McGee told the court.

Maybe not, but the prosecutor presents witnesses that say Ronnie and Orlando were not in Florida, either

"Ronnie asked us to provide his alibi for his time in Tennessee," says Maynard. "And he, that Ronnie was supposed to be at work with us on that Saturday."

Maynard testified that neither Skipper nor Smith showed up the job site that day.

Another former employee, Ronald Harvey, testified that Orlando Smith even bragged about what he had done to Randy Hardison during their trip to Nashville.

"Yeah about break time he said: the easiest two grand he'd ever made. He said all he had to do was hit him over the head once and he fell," Harvey testifies.

But Ronnie's defense attorney immediately tried to discredit him by bringing up his criminal past. "The fact is that man paid that man to beat somebody to death! And you're putting me on trial," Harvey responds.

But now this music row homicide all came down to one star witness: Catina Skipper, who took center stage to give the most important performance of her life. Six months earlier she had told a grand jury she had no idea what happened to Randy. But now she was singing a completely different tune.

Catina told the court she feel in love with Randy and that she left her whole life in Florida behind to be with him. But Catina testified Randy didn't think it was a good idea. "He didn't want to get in between my and Ronnie's problems," she tells the court.

Catina had shown up at Randy's apartment unannounced. But Catina says Randy surprised her when he said he had another girlfriend

Asked how that made her feel, Catina told the court she was very hurt and upset.

At this point, Catina says Randy walked out of his apartment. Catina grabbed a mug off Randy's bookcase, a sweetheart mug she had given him, that said "Randy and Cantina."

 



Catina says she put the mug in her purse but that the little keepsake soon became a deadly weapon.

Catina claimed Randy grabbed her arm and that she fought back by hitting him with her purse. She testified that she did not see him fall.

But Randy's friends, such as Worley, and his mother say they saw right through Catina's tears.

"She's a fake. A big fake, put on," Randy Hardison's mom said.

Catina says after she left Randy's apartment, she drove around Nashville for several hours unsure of what to do next, until she stopped at a gas station where she says she paid a homeless man $20 to make a call for her

Catina believes that message is proof that she alone is responsible for Randy's death, but prosecutor Gunn had a completely different take on it.

Asked what he heard in the message, Gunn says: "If I just heard the message, I would think that's the person who did the assault. The only person that would be asking if he's alright would be somebody that knew he had been injured. The second part of the message, that tells me that that's a jealous boyfriend. Jealous husband type. And number three, it tells me that it's somebody that's not from this immediate area, you would think that it was somebody south of Nashville."

Gunn believes Catina made the whole story up. Why? Because she knew she wouldn't be punished if she lied. She had been given immunity months earlier when authorities hoped she would implicate her husband.

After that phone call, Catina says she checked into a Nashville motel; a receipt backed up her story.

"Doesn't that support her story?" Van Sant asks the prosecutor.

"It supports her story that she was here. I don't deny she was here," he says.

He is just not convinced she was alone. "I've always felt that she came up here and showed Mr. Skipper where Mr. Hardison's apartment was."

And once that happened, prosecutors believe this crime took on a life of its own. As Randy Hardison came out to get his mail, Orlando Smith ambushed him and threw that deadly punch.

Meanwhile, Catina Skipper's story of slapping Randy Hardison with her purse has left his friends speechless.

"She's just a horrible liar," says Worley. "It was just the biggest joke I ever witnessed in my life."

As Gunn begins his closing argument, the question is, will the jury feel the same way?

"Miss Skipper did not do this. It just doesn't add up," Gunn argues. "We're asking you to find these men guilty. That they came up here to Nashville and did with premeditation with forethought with malice. … Find them guilty."

But defense attorney Rich McGee tried to focus the jury's attention not on Catina Skipper but on the lack of hard evidence.

"Keep in mind, folks, there is not one piece of physical evidence that links Ronnie Skipper to these charges. Not one," he told the jurors.

 



After 10 hours of deliberations, the jury reached their verdict, finding Ronnie Skipper guilty of criminally negligent homicide and finding Orlando Smith guilty of negligent homicide. Jurors also found both men guilty of aggravated assault.

Family and friends were relieved when the sentences were read, but that sense of satisfaction disappeared, when the court reconvened for sentencing.

Both men received five-year sentences but would only have to spend one year behind bars.

"I'm shocked. I can't believe it. You come across two state lines and you kill somebody and you get a year in jail. It's b---s---," Wynn Varble says.

Randy's friends are outraged, but under Tennessee law the judge's hands are tied. When the charges were lowered from second degree murder, so were the penalties.

"Nobody got more than a slap on the hand," Worley says.

No one was more devastated than Randy's mother, Becky. "Yes, I'm very angry," she said outside the courthouse. "They killed my son. When you kill somebody you should pay for it."

Surprisingly, one thing that will survive in this twisted country tale is the Skipper's marriage. Catina is standing by her man, since Ronnie forgave her for cheating.

Ronnie and Orlando have returned to court to surrender to authorities and begin serving their sentence.

"Ronnie Skipper is spineless," Worley says. "He had to hire some guy, some goon, to throw the punch that knocked Randy down and killed him. He's a cowardly bum."

Randy Hardison is gone, but for friends such as Worley, his spirit lives on through his music.

"You mention Randy to the crowd … why did you do that?" Van Sant asks.

"It just keeps him alive to me. It keeps him with us. We miss him really bad," Worley replies.


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Ronnie Skipper and Orlando Smith each served seven months in jail. They were released early for good behavior.

Despite having immunity at trial, Catina Skipper was convicted of perjury for having lied to the grand jury. Catina Skipper served two months in jail.