Hayes convicted of second-degree murder in Laura Ackerson's slaying
Posted February 19
Raleigh, N.C. — A Wake County jury found Amanda Hayes guilty of second-degree murder Wednesday in the death of her husband's ex-girlfriend, Laura Ackerson, whose dismembered remains were found in a Texas creek nearly three years ago.
Hayes, five weeks from giving birth to a girl, along with her husband, Grant Hayes, was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder 12 days after Ackerson's July 13, 2011, death.
She was later indicted on a charge of accessory after the fact to murder, and she went to trial Jan. 21.
Forty-nine witnesses, including the defendant, took the stand over 13 days of testimony in the month-long trial, and the jury of three men and nine women returned its verdict Wednesday after more than 11 hours of deliberations in the case.
"I would just like to apologize with my whole heart, being and soul, personally to Laura. I apologize to her, to her family, to her children, to my family, to Grant's family, to everyone who had to work this case, to everyone who had to sit through this trial," the 41-year-old Hayes told Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens. "I am truly, truly sorry with every ounce of my soul."
"She's a manipulator. She's a liar," said Ackerson's father, who added that he did not believe her apology was sincere.
Stephens sentenced Hayes to 13 to 16.5 years – 157 to 198 months – in prison.
"Based upon my view of the evidence, it is quite possible and likely that Amanda Hayes could have saved the life of Laura Ackerson, and she chose not to," Stephens said. "She chose, instead, to participate in her killing."
Wake County prosecutors, say Amanda Hayes hated Ackerson – the mother of Grant Hayes' two young sons – because of a bitter child custody dispute and that the couple wanted to "erase" her from their lives.
Defense attorneys argued that it was Grant Hayes who killed Ackerson, cut up her body, put it in coolers and carried it in a U-Haul trailer without his wife knowing.
Amanda Hayes testified that she found out Ackerson had died while at her sister's home in Richmond, Texas, where Grant Hayes coerced her into both admitting to the crime and helping him find a place to dump the remains.
She only helped, she said, out of fear of what he might do to her, his 2- and 3-year-old boys and her 1-month-old and 22-year-old daughters.
"We're disappointed Amanda wasn't acquitted. We believed in Amanda," defense attorney Johnny Gaskins said. "Amanda would never have been in this situation, had it not been for Grant Hayes."
Wake County prosecutors disagreed
"I think the jury rejected her words, and that was the clearest thing that came out today – that her act and her sentences from the witness stand were rejected by the jury," said Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger, who also prosecuted Grant Hayes in September.
A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in less than two hours.
He has maintained that his wife accidentally killed Ackerson during an argument and that the only thing he did wrong was help with the cover-up because he loved her and wanted to protect her.
Gaskins, however, argued that she, like Ackerson, was a victim of Grant Hayes. He described him as a dangerous sociopath who used his wit and charisma to manipulate and control his wife and to take advantage of a large sum of money she received from an inheritance.
The couple was broke and about to be evicted from their Raleigh apartment at the time of the crime, and Grant Hayes not only spent Amanda Hayes' inheritance but also had pawned off several pieces of expensive jewelry she owned.
"There is no reason to believe that Mrs. Hayes suffered any less domination and abuse than Laura talked about and discussed in her (child custody) case, albeit it is our position that it was more mental and emotional, and her dynamic was different," defense attorney Rosemary Godwin told Stephens before the judge handed down Amanda Hayes' sentence.
Friends of the 27-year-old Ackerson testified that they believed Grant Hayes had physically abused her when the two were together and that she believed he was such a threat to her that she remarked to one friend that if anything ever happened to her – "Grant did it."
How she died is unclear.
North Carolina's chief medical examiner testified that Ackerson's remains were so badly decomposed that her death was ruled "undetermined homicidal violence."
There was, however, a sharp puncture wound to the fourth cervical vertebra as well as crushed thyroid cartilage consistent with some type of asphyxia or blunt force trauma to the neck.