Raleigh, N.C. — Jurors in the first-degree murder trial of Grant Hayes heard more graphic details about the case Thursday as Texas authorities who helped investigate the July 2011 death of Laura Ackerson testified about finding her dismembered body and what they discovered nearby at the home of his wife's sister.
Ackerson, Hayes' 27-year-old ex-girlfriend and the mother of his two young sons, was killed during a visit to his Raleigh apartment on July 13, 2011, Wake County prosecutors contend, and her remains were recovered 11 days later in Oyster Creek, a body of water in Richmond, Texas, about 60 miles southwest of Houston.
Defense attorneys, however, say Hayes, 34, was only covering for his wife, Amanda Hayes, who killed Ackerson during a fight and then coordinated the effort to hide evidence of the attack.
She is also charged in the crime and is set to go to trial early next year.
Brad Wichard, a homicide detective for the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office, said a security camera captured Amanda Hayes dumping four cartons – containing seven unopened one-gallon bottles of acid – at the end of a cul-de-sac 1.6 miles from the home of her sister, Karen Berry.
An eighth bottle, he said, was missing.
Raymond Boyer Jr, an employee at a Home Depot store about 15 minutes from Berry's home, testified that he tried talking Grant Hayes out of using acid but that he was adamant about using it to remove the odor of a wild hog from a pig pen.
"I told him over and over again that muriatic acid was not going to remove the odor," Boyer said. "He was pretty insistent about it."
Security video and a receipt from the store indicate Grant Hayes bought four containers of the acid, as well as a 32-gallon trash can and a large-sized pair of long-cuff neoprene chemical-resistant gloves.
The packaging from those gloves, Wichard said, was found at Berry's home near an empty hog pen, where investigators also collected samples of discolored soil and part of the pen's fence that was corroded.
Prosecutors have not said how they think Ackerson might have died – an autopsy could not determine a cause of death – but say the motive had to do with a child custody dispute between her and Grant Hayes.
State witnesses have testified that, in the days after Ackerson disappeared, the Hayeses indicated they were taking the trip to Texas because an emotional Amanda Hayes – who a month earlier had lost her mother and also had given birth to a daughter – needed to see her sister and also to take a piece of furniture to store there.
Amanda Hayes' daughter, Sha Guddat, testified that her mother asked to borrow a vacuum cleaner when hers broke and that she noticed a strong smell of bleach when she went to the Hayeses' apartment while they were gone.
Other witnesses testified that a guest bathroom in the apartment was noticeably cleaner than any other room in the house, that there were bleach stains on the carpet and that the couple showed up in Texas with several coolers, some of which they left behind.
Defense attorneys say Ackerson had gone to the Hayeses on July 13 for a mid-week visit with her children, who were in their father's custody, and while there, had signed a written agreement to give up the custody fight for them in exchange for $25,000.
But Amanda Hayes, who they say was "extremely resentful" of Ackerson, was angry about the arrangement and unsure of where the money would come from.
While Grant Hayes was out of the room with the children, his attorneys claim, "something happened" between his wife and Ackerson that resulted in her death.
Amanda Hayes' defense attorneys, however, have filed court documents claiming that she was involved in the crime because she feared for both her life and the lives of her children.