ST. GEORGE — After more than a year of delays, continuances, resolution hearings, failed jail transports and deadlock on both sides, the Lee Cleaner’s case made it to trial Monday with the jury hearing opening arguments before Ralph Lee himself took the stand.
The trial of Stephen Matthew Gardner, 44, began with jury selection and then opening statements in 5th District Court, presided over by District Judge John J. Walton. Gardner faces first-degree felony aggravated robbery, second-degree felony theft and other charges arising from an incident reported in July.
On July 4, 2018, Gardner allegedly entered Lee Cleaners at 4 a.m. and struck Ralph Lee, Sr. multiple times in the head before ransacking the business.
After severely injuring Lee, who is now 70, Gardner went through the business owner’s pockets as he lay unconscious on the floor, according to police. Gardner has remained in jail since he was arrested for an unrelated case on July 13.
Washington County prosecutor Eric Gentry opened by talking about how Lee has lived in the community for years and that he has also worked and raised his family here. He said Lee went to work early that morning, “which was not unusual,” and then opened the large sliding door toward the rear of the shop when it became hot and stuffy — which is when “the attack took place.”
Lee took the stand and testified that after only being in the shop for several minutes, he said he felt as though he was being watched. Seconds later, he saw the “flash of a man” and was struck in the head.