Amanda Hayes defense 'so ridiculous,' says prosecutor
Posted February 17
Updated February 18
Raleigh, N.C. — What Wake County prosecutors and defense attorneys for Amanda Hayes both agree on is that her husband, Grant Hayes, committed a heinous crime when he killed Laura Ackerson – his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his two young sons – nearly three years ago.
What they disagree on is the role Amanda Hayes – on trial for first-degree murder and accessory after the fact to murder – played.
Was the 41-year-old former actress a willing participant in the 27-year-old's July 13, 2011, death and cover-up, as the state believes?
Or, as the defense contends, did Grant Hayes – found guilty last year – manipulate, lie to and coerce his wife into admitting to Ackerson's death and then helping him dump her dismembered body in a swampy Texas creek?
The state says that the Hayeses – involved in a bitter custody dispute over the 2- and 3-year-old boys – killed Ackerson, that the murder was premeditated and that, when jurors look at all the evidence in the case, Amanda Hayes' story about what happened "is so ridiculous" that it will make "zero sense."
"What you have in this case is two people, together, who participated in this murder. At no point in this trial have we minimized Grant's role in this," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said during closing arguments Monday. "Grant was incredibly involved in this, but they did this together."
But defense attorney Johnny Gaskins said that Grant Hayes – a sociopath musician who charmed others with his wit and charisma and then used them – acted alone when he likely strangled Ackerson with an Apple computer cord at his Raleigh apartment.
He then went to great lengths to hide the killing by wrapping her body in a rug, carrying it from the home in the middle of the night and cutting it up someplace else, Gaskins said. Grant Hayes then carried it in coolers, hidden in a U-Haul trailer, across the country – all without Amanda Hayes knowing.
She testified last week that it was July 18, 2011, the day the couple got to Texas – on what she believed was just a visit to see her sister – that she learned Ackerson had died.
"He's concealed everything he's done from Amanda," Gaskins said. "She arrives in Texas, happy, content to see her sister without any hint whatsoever that Grant has killed Laura."
Amanda Hayes, soft-spoken and tearful at times, also testified that she helped in the cover-up only because she was under duress and scared of what her husband might to do if she didn't.
"What you've experienced is a fine acting job. Amanda Hayes has come before you and has tried to sell you on a role," Assistant District Attorney Becky Holt told jurors. "She was not afraid of Grant Hayes then. She was not afraid a year later. She's given the performance of her life."
Holt said Amanda Hayes was resentful of Ackerson because of the custody fight and that the Hayeses wanted Ackerson out of their lives.
A court-appointed psychologist's recommendation that Ackerson share split custody of the children with their father was "ridiculous" to Amanda Hayes, and it hampered the financially strained Hayeses' plans to move away for Grant Hayes' music career.
"Amanda Hayes and Grant Hayes decided that they were going to kill Laura and erase her, that she was going to stop being the barrier and anchor that kept them here and kept them going forward," Holt said.
Amanda Hayes, she added, never expressed to anyone that she was scared of her husband – even when she was alone with police two days before her arrest and had the opportunity to do so.
"She had multiple, multiple opportunities to go and flee a situation that she claimed was marked with duress," Holt said.
The jury deliberated for about 75 minutes Monday afternoon, asking for a diagram of the Hayeses' third-floor apartment and inquiring about the definition of "acting in concert" as it applies to a requirement for a first-degree murder conviction.
Jurors have six verdicts they can consider.
On the charge of murder, they can consider guilty verdicts of first-degree or second-degree murder, as well as not guilty.
If the jury finds Amanda Hayes not guilty of murder, it must then consider accessory after the fact to murder in both the first- and second-degrees or not guilty.
Jury deliberations resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.