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UPDATED: Man accused of trying to kill wife with meat cleaver in jail on $1 million bond


James B. Privett III

A Williamsburg man being held in the Whitley County Detention Center in lieu of a $1 million cash bond for allegedly trying to kill his wife with a meat cleaver during a domestic dispute early Monday evening.

Whitley County Sheriff's Sgt. Ken Shepherd charged James B. Privett III, 26, with attempted murder, second-degree burglary and resisting arrest.

Sheriff Colan Harrell said this was the first time in his more than 40 years in law enforcement that he had ever dealt with assault by meat cleaver.

"James Privett allegedly struck her several times, at least two times across the head with a meat cleaver, and numerous other times throughout the body," Harrell said.

She was flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville due to the seriousness of her injuries where she was listed in stable condition Tuesday afternoon.

The incident happened about 6 p.m. in the Fairview community at the 4334 Highway 1804 residence of Brenda Booth where the couple was staying.

Booth came into the home Monday where she saw James Privett beating Erica Privett. Booth tried to intervene, but was struck. She then left the residence momentarily, and when she came back James Privett was striking Erica Privett with a meat cleaver, Harrell said.

"Ironically, after he struck her several times with a meat cleaver, he tried to get her to go to a neighbor's house after he did all this to her, and he physically took her most of the way to the neighbor's house where he broke into the neighbor's residence," Harrell said.

When Shepherd, Deputy Shawn Jackson and Kentucky State Police Trooper Duane Foley arrived at the scene, Erica Privett had already been taken by ambulance to Jellico Community Hospital for treatment. She was later flown out.

By that time, James Privett had left the neighbor's residence, which was about 100 yards from the scene of the crime. He took clothing from the residence, which belonged to Donna Cunningham, Harrell said.

When Shepherd pulled up to the area, he observed Privett walking south on Highway 1804, and ordered him to take a position where he could secure him, but Privett wasn't compliant and had to be placed into custody.

Although Privett was arrested about 7 p.m. Monday, according to his arrest citation, he wasn't booked into the Whitley County Detention Center until about 1 a.m. Tuesday, according to Jail Tracker.

The jail initially refused to accept Privett before he was cleared medically.

Harrell said he was told by one of his deputies that the jail requested he sign a form when Privett was brought in.

"Of course, we don't go around signing forms. This is not what deputies do," Harrell said. "As far as requiring him to be checked out for drugs, he wasn't incarcerated for any drug offenses.

"As far as his hand, I don't remember seeing anything wrong with his hand, but I didn't do a visual inspection of his whole body."

Harrell said that Shepherd took Privett to the hospital, and then back to the detention center.

Harrell said he didn't know if Privett was tested for drugs while he was at the hospital.

Whitley District Judge Fred White entered a not guilty plea on Privett's behalf during his video arraignment from the Whitley County Detention Center Tuesday morning.

White appointed the public advocate's office to represent Privett and scheduled a Feb. 27 preliminary hearing in the case.

During Tuesday's hearing, Privett appeared to have some type of bandage or wrap on his right forearm and wrist.

Privett said little during the brief hearing except to answer the judge's questions.

(Editor's note: The James B. Privett III listed in this story isn't the James Privett, who is Williamsburg Fire Chief or related to him.)

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