Randy Hardison (CBS)
"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."
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
"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
"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
"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
"He was one of the first people that I met when I came
to town, one of the first real friendships that I had,"
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
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
Randy's humor was the stuff of legends in Nashville. "He
kept everyone in stitches all the time," remembers
"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
"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,"
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
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
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
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
"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
The message, Corcoran says, was a big clue. "We started
to try to locate Ronnie to find out is there anything to
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
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,
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
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
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
"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
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,"
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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.
Ronnie Skipper and Orlando Smith each served seven
months in jail. They were released early for good
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.