A Pert Creek man has admitted to having a role in the 2012 murder of Dradrick “Drad” Fleming.
Austin L. Ison, 26, pleaded guilty in Letcher Circuit Court last week to criminal complicity to tampering with physical evidence and first-degree hindering prosecution/apprehension. He also entered an “Alford guilty plea” to charges of criminal facilitation of capital murder, criminal facilitation of first-degree arson and criminal facilitation of kidnapping.
By entering the Alford plea, which originated in a North Carolina murder case in 1970, Ison maintains that he is innocent of the murder, kidnapping and arson charges against him, but admits that enough evidence exists that a jury could find him guilty.
Sentencing for Ison is set for 2 p.m. on May 14. If Letcher Circuit Judge Sam Wright follows the recommendations of Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II, Ison will be sentenced to five years in prison for each of the five charges for a maximum term of 20 years. Ison will be eligible to apply for parole after serving 36 months, nearly two years of which he has already served.
The wife of Mr. Fleming, Stephanie Yvonne Jones Fleming, and her lover, James Ray Maggard, were sentenced April 16 on charges related to the murder of Mr. Fleming, a 34-year-old coal miner from Millstone and father of three.
Maggard, 33, entered an Alford plea on charges of attacking Mr. Fleming with a baseball bat at Millstone and then burning Mr. Fleming to death after he set Mr. Fleming’s truck afire at a remote location on Black Mountain, near Franks Creek at Eolia.
Mrs. Fleming, 32, pleaded guilty last month to complicity to capital murder under aggravated circumstances, complicity to firstdegree arson, complicity to kidnapping, criminal complicity to tampering with physical evidence and firstdegree hindering prosecution or apprehension.
Banks consulted with Mr. Fleming’s family and the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department before offers was extended to Mrs. Fleming, Maggard and Ison.
Mr. Fleming went missing on the night of June 20, 2012, sometime after he was last seen looking for a place to park in Neon so he could attend visitation for an uncle who had been killed in an all-terrain vehicle accident. Authorities have said Mr. Fleming, a roof-bolting machine operator for Cumberland River Coal Co., left before attending the wake after being lured by Mrs. Fleming back to the couple’s trailer so that Maggard could ambush him with the baseball bat.
Video surveillance taken from a coal mine near Little Fork of Franks Creek shows Mr. Fleming’s truck driving by the mine site at a high rate of speed at 10:15 p.m. on the night of the murder. The recording also shows Maggard walking back down the same road one hour and 37 minutes later.
Maggard’s cousin, who works at a nearby mine site, told police that Mrs. Fleming showed up a short time later and brought cleaning supplies and clean clothes to Maggard, who then washed and changed into the clothes in a guard shack before he and Mrs. Fleming left Black Mountain together. An autopsy performed the day after the remains of Mr. Fleming were recovered revealed that he died of “smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.” The report said that Mr. Fleming’s lungs, larynx and trachea contained “abundant amounts of soot.”
The author of the autopsy report, State Medical Examiner Victoria Graham, also said that “blunt force trauma cannot be excluded by autopsy findings.”
Ison befriended Mrs. Fleming when the two worked at the Whitesburg Pizza Hut. The two remained close after Mrs. Fleming left Pizza Hut and was hired to work at the Mc- Donald’s restaurant located directly across KY 15, where Mrs. Fleming later began an affair with Maggard.
During a preliminary hearing for Mrs. Fleming and Maggard in Letcher District Court on June 28, 2012, Lt. Brian Damron testified that Ison told authorities he had been “privy to a conversation” in which he heard Maggard and Mrs. Fleming discuss killing Mr. Fleming with a baseball bat and making his death look like an accident.
Damron testified that while Ison claimed he thought the two lovers were just joking about murdering Mr. Fleming, investigators had reason to believe that Ison’s involvement in the homicide was greater. Damron testified that Ison had worked “in and around the funeral business,” and apparently told Mrs. Fleming and Maggard that a body would have to be burned at 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit to reach the cremation stage that would keep the cause of death from being known.
Damron also testified that Ison, a mortuary school graduate, had voluntarily submitted to a polygraph examination at Kentucky State Police headquarters in Frankfort in days just after Mr. Fleming’s body was recovered, and that Ison had surrendered his computer to the sheriff ’s department to allow investigators “to see if any research” had been done pertaining to the crime.