Amanda Hayes' sister prayed before talking to police
Posted January 31
Raleigh, N.C. — A Raleigh police investigator testifying Friday in the first-degree murder trial of Amanda Hayes told jurors that Hayes' older sister was nervous when he showed up at the door of her Texas home looking for answers in the disappearance of Hayes' husband's ex-girlfriend, Laura Ackerson.
"Her demeanor was very nervous. She was visibly upset and, at one point, crying," Detective Dexter Gill said of the July 24, 2011, meeting with Karen Berry, who invited him and another detective inside to talk.
But before Gill could start asking about her sister and what she knew about Ackerson's whereabouts, he said, Berry wanted to pray.
She did, and then started answering questions police had.
"I asked, "Is Laura here somewhere?" Gill said.
Her response – he didn't say what it was – prompted the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office to conduct a search of Berry's home and property.
In a backyard barn was a black machete that Berry put there after finding it in her driveway, Gill said. She also told them about two towels that were used to wipe out two coolers that her sister and brother-in-law left behind when they returned to North Carolina.
Ultimately that day, Gill said, dive crews found some of Ackerson's remains in a creek across the street from Berry's house.
Hours later, on July 25, 2011, Raleigh police arrested Amanda Hayes and her husband, Grant Hayes, at his mother's home in Kinston.
Grant Hayes, 34, was convicted in September, and Amanda Hayes is now on trial on charges of murder and accessory after the fact to murder.
Defense attorneys say their client knew nothing about Ackerson's death, that she tripped inside the Hayeses' third-floor apartment and that Grant Hayes then rushed his wife and his children – including the two young sons he shared with Ackerson – out the door so that he could call EMS.
When Amanda Hayes returned home that night, her attorneys contend, Grant Hayes assured her that Ackerson was OK and had left to go home. It wasn't until four days later when the couple arrived in Richmond, Texas, for an impromptu visit that she found out Ackerson had died.
By that point, the defense says, Grant Hayes had threatened to kill his wife if she didn't get Berry to go along with disposing Ackerson's remains.
Wake County prosecutors, however, say Amanda Hayes not only knew about the crime and cover-up but confessed to Berry that she killed Ackerson.
"'I hurt her. I hurt her bad. She's dead,'" Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said, quoting Amanda Hayes, during opening statements Monday.
The Hayeses had been involved with Ackerson in a bitter custody dispute, the state contends, and as a result, Amanda Hayes, 41, had become angry at and resentful of the 27-year-old.
Prosecutors say the couple killed Ackerson at their apartment on July 13, 2011, and, four days later, drove with the children – and Ackerson's butchered body packed in coolers – to Berry's home.
Susan Dufur, a third-shift manager at a Raleigh Walmart Supercenter about 5 miles from where the Hayeses' lived, testified that, early on the morning of July 14, 2011, Grant Hayes spent about 30 minutes inside the store, paid $98.93 in cash and left with a number of items, including a reciprocating saw, extra saw blades, goggles, gloves, a tarp and industrial trash bags.
It was several days later, Gill testified, that he realized he needed to go to Texas.
Ackerson's last known whereabouts put her visiting her children in Raleigh. Police found her 2006 white Ford Focus 400 yards from Grant Hayes' apartment. His cellphone had been detected at Berry's home, and a U-Haul trailer – rented in Raleigh – had been returned 20 miles away from Richmond in Katy, Texas.
Gill's testimony concluded with Assistant District Attorney Becky Holt asking him about his experiences at crime scenes when a decomposing bodies is recovered.
"It's pretty pungent," he said, adding that the odor also depends on the weather and time of year.
"After four days – no matter what the weather – would there be a significant smell?" Holt asked.
"Yes," Gill said.