Raleigh, N.C. — A jury of four men and eight women deliberated for less than two hours Monday morning before finding a Raleigh man guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his two sons.
"I think that a jury verdict in a case like this, in an hour and a half, probably speaks louder than anything anyone could say about this case," Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said prior to sentencing Grant Ruffin Hayes, 34, who was convicted in the July 13, 2011, killing of Laura Jean Ackerson.
Jurors began deciding the case shortly before 10 a.m. and notified the court bailiff shortly before 11:30 a.m. that they had reached a verdict.
Over the course of the grisly three-week murder trial, nearly 50 witnesses testified that Hayes, embroiled in a bitter custody dispute with Ackerson, lured her to his northwest Raleigh apartment, killed her and then disposed of her dismembered body in a Texas creek.
Hayes, who often smiled and laughed throughout the trial, sat expressionless as Stephens read the jury's verdict and offered no comment to the court. He was then taken from the room to begin serving a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
"Obviously, it's just a despicable, wretched crime, and we're pleased that the jury looked at all the evidence and saw the truth in what happened," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said after the verdict.
During more than three hours of closing arguments Friday, Zellinger told jurors that Hayes got Ackerson to his home to talk about the custody fight. Once there, he killed her, cut her up, put her in several coolers and drove to Richmond, Texas, where he dumped her remains near the home of his wife's sister.
"He didn't just dispose of her body. He engraved his hate by cutting off her head," Zellinger said Friday. "That dismemberment means more than just disposing of the body. It's extreme abhorrence of the person he killed."
Ackerson's father, Rodger Ackerson, said he was relieved Hayes was found guilty.
"This man had a wife, three kids and a dead body in his apartment for three days," he said. "Neither one of them called the police. I'm not surprised at that verdict at all."
Hayes' attorneys, who said they were disappointed by the jury's decision, said their client's wife, Amanda Hayes, 41, confessed to killing Ackerson and that he is only guilty of trying to help her cover up the crime – "a terrible thing" but not murder.
Amanda Hayes is also charged in the case and is expected to go to trial in January.
"I never know what happens in (the jury room)," defense attorney Will Durham said. "All I know is that Mr. Hayes has always maintained his innocence, continues to maintain his innocence, and we'll continue seeking whatever relief we can get. We were disappointed with the verdict."
Security videos showed Hayes on shopping trips to a Raleigh Walmart, where he bought a saw that investigators say was used to dismember Ackerson. Footage from a Home Depot in Texas showed him buying acid that the state argued was poured on her severed head before Hayes dumped it in the creek.
Some of the state's strongest evidence supporting their argument was from a former inmate who said Hayes told him – while at the Wake County Detention Center in late July 2011 – that he and his wife subdued and strangled Ackerson.
The jury on Thursday also heard a song, "Broomstick Killer," that Hayes recorded talking about killing his "babies' momma" – a recording the Durham contended was a parody, albeit not a funny one, written to "blow off steam."
Hayes, however, sat rocking to the beat of the music as the lyrics blared in the courtroom:
"My babies' momma, don't talk to me. Don't want your drama. I got two kids by you. I can't take any more from you."
It went on: "I put a price tag on your head. You must have told your attorney I got intentions on killing you."