Raynella Dossett Leath

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Raynella Dossett Leath
Born Raynella Bernardene Large
(1948-10-25) October 25, 1948 (age 66)
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Occupation Former registered nurse
Criminal charge
First degree murder
Criminal penalty
Life in prison
Criminal status Imprisoned at the Tennessee Prison for Women
Spouse(s) Ed Dossett (1970-1992; deceased)
David Leath (1993-2003; deceased)

Raynella Dossett Leath, from Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, is a woman serving a life sentence at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville for the murder of her husband David Leath in 2003. Prosecutors alleged that she shot her husband in the head, and then attempted to stage his murder as a suicide. She is also a suspect in the death of her first husband, Ed Dossett, in 1992. He supposedly died when trampled by a cattle stampede, but prosecutors now believe was killed with a lethal dose of morphine.[1]

Early life[edit]

Raynella Bernardene Large was born on October 25, 1948, to Annie Irene (née Owens) and Dewey Ernest Large and raised in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She attended Oak Ridge High School and graduated in 1966.[2] She went on to become a registered nurse, and she married her first husband, Ed Dossett, the Knox County District Attorney, in 1970. The couple had three children, and the family lived on a farm west of Knoxville.[3]

She held a Tennessee social work license which she agreed to surrender after she was charged with murder.[4]

Death of first husband[edit]

In August 1992, Ed Dossett, who at that time was in the late stages on terminal cancer, was found dead in the couple's corral, supposedly having been trampled by cattle. Despite the medical examiner's suspicions about a double indemnity clause on Ed's life insurance policy, his death was initially ruled to be an agricultural accident by the first medical examiner who autopsied him. Just six months after his death, Raynella married her second husband, a retired barber, David Leath. Dossett's death was re-investigated in 2006 after David Leath's death.[3]

Death of second husband[edit]

On March 13, 2003, Raynella found the body of her second husband David Leath in their bedroom. She called 9-1-1 and reported her husband's death as a suicide.[5] The physical evidence suggested that three shots were fired from a .38 caliber Colt revolver,[5] but police argued that it was the second shot that killed David Leath.[3] Following this incident, authorities re-investigated the death of Ed Dossett. A new medical examiner revealed that the morphine levels in Leath's system were "so extraordinarily high it is unlikely that any human could function in an ambulatory manner or continue to live". In 2006, Raynella was charged with administering an overdose of morphine.[6] Two years later, in 2008, she was charged with the first-degree murder of David Leath.[7]

Attempted murder charge[edit]

In 1995, after the death of her first husband, Raynella discovered that he had had an affair with another woman that resulted in the birth of a child. Her late husband's mistress, Kaye Clift Walker, was in the middle of a divorce with Steve Walker; the mistress revealed to Walker that she had had an affair with Dossett and that he had fathered one of her children. Soon after, Raynella lured Walker to her farm, where she allegedly opened fire on him until she ran out of bullets.[6] She was charged with attempted murder, but plea bargained to a lesser charge. She served six years on probation and her criminal record was expunged.[3]

Murder trial[edit]

In May 2009, Raynella Dossett Leath went on trial for the murder of her second husband, David. She maintained that his death was a suicide. After hours of jury deliberation, there was no verdict and the judge declared a hung jury.[5]

A retrial began in January 2010. The prosecutor began his opening statement by playing Raynella's 911 call, then explaining why David's death was murder rather than suicide. The prosecutor said three shots were fired and the second shot killed David instantly. He also told the jury that David was also drugged with a combination similar to that used for patients undergoing surgery.[8] In this trial, Raynella's defense argued that David's death was in fact a homicide, but that Raynella had an alibi.[5] After a day of deliberation, the jury had not reached a unanimous verdict.[9] However, on January 25, 2010, Raynella Dossett Leath was convicted of first-degree murder and was automatically sentenced to between 51 years and life in prison.[1] Immediately following her conviction, the charges relating to her first husband's death were dropped.


Following her conviction, Raynella appealed for a new trial on the basis of Judge Richard Baumgartner's judicial misconduct relative to his drug use. She cited the murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom case, which resulted in all of the defendants' convictions being overturned.[10] Raynella's appeal was denied.

In popular culture[edit]

True crime author Diane Fanning published Her Deadly Web in 2012 about the Raynella Dossett Leath case. Her case was first profiled on Deadly Women on November 18, 2011,[11] and subsequently on Snapped on June 17, 2012, and Deadly Sins on January 26, 2013.


  1. ^ a b "Raynella Dossett Leath found guilty of 2nd husband's murder". Wate.com. 25 January 2010. 
  2. ^ "Former Ridger found guilty in second husband's death". Oak Ridger. 
  3. ^ a b c d Dewan, Shaila (January 24, 2010). "Tennessee Woman Accused in Trail of Death". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ "Tennessee Board of Social Worker Licensure Minutes". 17 November 2011. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d Balloch, Jim (25 January 2010). "Jury convicts Raynella Dossett Leath of first-degree murder in husband's death". Knox News. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Estep, Erica (30 November 2006). "Widow charged with husband's murder three years later". Wate.com. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 
  7. ^ Balloch, Jim (24 April 2012). "Dossett Leath appeal: Evidence didn't support conviction". Knox News. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 
  8. ^ "Raynella Dossett Leath on re-trial for 2nd husband's murder". Wate.com. 19 January 2010. 
  9. ^ Keil, Ann (24 January 2010). "First day of deliberations ends with no verdict in Raynella Dossett Leath trial". Wate.com. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 
  10. ^ Satterfield, Jamie (25 January 2012). "Raynella Dossett Leath appeal effort targets Baumgartner's problems". Knox News. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 
  11. ^ Balloch, Jim (22 January 2012). "Raynella Dossett Leath case subject of book, TV show". Knox News. Retrieved 25 November 2013.