(CN) – A Tennessee woman who was convicted of the first-degree murder of her second husband is not necessarily precluded from inheriting his property, a state appeals court ruled.
David Leath and Raynella Dossett Leath were married in 1993. David came into the marriage with one daughter and Raynella with two.
Ten years later, Leath was killed with a gunshot to the head. His daughter, Cynthia Wilkerson, sued Raynella, claiming that Raynella could not inherit her father’s property because she had intentionally killed him.
Raynella was then charged with the murder, and after a mistrial, she was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison.
Wilkerson then moved to continue her lawsuit, arguing that the issue over whether Raynella had killed David had been decided.
Raynella argued that she still had the right to appeal that conviction, and that properly -inheritance issues were ongoing, as she had been also charged with the murder of her first husband, William Edward Dossett.
The trial court ruled in favor of Wilkerson, stating that the conviction prevented Raynella from inheriting David’s property. However, the Knoxville-based Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the decision, citing the fact that Raynella’s conviction is not final because her case is still pending in the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Writing on the court’s behalf, Judge John McClarty stated that the conviction can be used as evidence to support Wilkerson’s case, but not in every case.
“Before admitting the judgment of conviction, the court must find that the probative value of the prior conviction is not substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice,” he wrote.”If admitted, the judgment of conviction cannot be considered as conclusive evidence of the facts necessarily determined in the underlying criminal proceeding. Wife may contest the conviction by introducing contrary evidence and argument because the conviction is simply evidence and is not entitled to preclusive effect under collateral estoppel,” he added.