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Reese pins murder on St. Clair

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Dennis Reese led a 14-member jury panel through a two-week trek that ended in the death of a Bardstown man in 1991.

Reese is the key witness in the murder case against Michael St. Clair.

Having been convicted of the murder of Frank Brady in 1991, St. Clair is currently back in Bullitt Circuit Court so that the jury can determine his sentence.

On two other occasions, higher courts have overturned death penalty sentences for the Oklahoma man.

The trial began on Monday with prosecutors Todd Lewis and Dana Todd presenting a series of live witnesses and summary testimonies from the previous trials.

On Tuesday, Reese took the stand.

It was on Sept. 19, 1991, that Reese and St. Clair escaped from an Oklahoma jail. Although he thought the escape might have had some guard involvement, Reese agreed to go along with the breakout. He said St. Clair never tried to convince or force him to do anything.

They took a deputy’s truck until it ran out of gas. The next day, they walked upon the home of Vernon Stephens. Reese said St. Clair went in the back of the home and he entered into the front.

While there, St. Clair was able to secure a gun. The pair left with one of the couple’s trucks and headed to Plano, Texas, just outside Dallas.

After meeting up with St. Clair’s wife, the pair got supplies and some money and bought bus tickets to Portland, Ore. However, Reese told jurors that they stopped in Denver, after feeling that someone might have recognized them from the national television coverage.

Looking for another vehicle, Reese said St. Clair saw a truck with a for sale sign in a parking lot. Saying they wanted to test drive the vehicle, Tim Keeling let Reese drive. That’s when St. Clair handcuffed the vehicle’s owner and they drove toward Dallas. However, just before entering the state of Texas, Reese said they stopped to use the rest room.

The next thing he heard was two gunshots and only St. Clair returned to the vehicle.

At that stage, Reese said St. Clair told him that killing people was like killing dogs, it got easier after the first one.

When asked by Lewis why he simply didn’t part ways with St. Clair, Reese said he knew his family in Durant, Okla., could be in danger since the defendant still had family there.

“He promised he wouldn’t kill again,” said Reese.

After heading to New Orleans for a few days, the pair drove up Interstate 65 to Kentucky. They found an isolated spot on Old Boston Road near Lebanon Junction.

“We just stumbled across it,” said Reese.

They spent one night there and then headed to Louisville and went to the flea market. On the second night in Kentucky, they slept in the rest area in Hardin County.

On Oct. 6, they went to the flea market again. Once done and nothing else to do, Reese said the pair drove down to a pair of rest areas in Hardin County.

Figuring they needed another vehicle, St. Clair spotted Brady’s red truck. While Reese drove Keeling’s truck to the rear of the rest area, Brady drove around with St. Clair in the passenger seat.

Brady was handcuffed and Reese drove the trio back to Old Boston Road.

A few minutes after they arrived, Reese saw St. Clair and Brady walking down the dirt road. The next thing he heard was two shots and then St. Clair returned alone to the truck.

They went back to Hardin County and ultimately set the truck stolen from Keeling on fire. Later that evening, a Kentucky State Trooper seemed to be staring at the pair in Brady’s vehicle. 

Reese said he went to get on I-65 but the trooper pulled them over. St. Clair got out of the vehicle and shot at the trooper, hitting the cruiser.

The men took off but the tires were flat. They took off on foot and went separate ways, according to Reese.

He told the jury of his travels throughout the country until his capture on Jan. 5, 1992. He learned St. Clair was already caught.

“I told them the truth since day one,” Reese told prosecutors on Tuesday.

While not admitting to pulling the trigger, Reese accepted his role in the murders, although no one has been charged in the Keeling death.

Under his guilty plea in Bullitt County, Reese received a pair of life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. He avoided the death penalty.

However, Reese was already serving a life sentence with no parole in Oklahoma.

Under cross-examination, Reese admitted to killing a young woman. He said he struck the woman one time, causing a fatal fracture to her skull.

While on the run after leaving St. Clair, Reese also robbed a man in California. He also arranged a phone interview with a newspaper reporter in Durant and was featured on national television, including Current Affair.

“Punish me for what I did but don’t punish me for what he did,” said Reese.

Brady was 55 years old at the time of his death. He worked for Barton Brands for 33 years without ever missing a day of work due to illness.

The testimony in the case is expected to wrap up by the end of the week. The jury could begin deliberations on Monday. The panel could once again recommended the death penalty for St. Clair.

St. Clair, who has been convicted of four prior murders, is also facing charges in Hardin County for kidnapping of Brady and arson.