Raleigh man's defense blames wife for ex-girlfriend's murder
Posted August 29, 2013
Updated August 30, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — A Raleigh man on trial for the grisly murder of his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his two sons was involved in a bitter child custody dispute that drove him and his wife to plan and carry out her death in an effort to rid her from their lives, Wake County prosecutors said Thursday.
But defense attorneys for Grant Ruffin Hayes said it was his wife, Amanda Hayes, who killed Laura Jean Ackerson at the Hayeses' northwest Raleigh apartment on the evening of July 13, 2011, and then took charge of the situation to hide evidence of the unplanned attack.
Grant Hayes murder trial video Amanda Hayes, 41, is also charged in the crime and is scheduled to go to trial in January.
"This case is about a man covering up his wife's actions," attorney Will Durham told the jury of eight women and four men during opening statements in his client's first-degree murder trial. "Amanda Hayes killed Laura Ackerson during a fight. It wasn't something that was planned."
"The evidence will show that Amanda Hayes was extremely resentful of Laura Ackerson," he added.
Grant Hayes, 34, made "terrible decisions," Durham said, by going out and buying a saw and other supplies but said that he only helped dispose of Ackerson’s body.
"It's a horrible thing, but it's not murder, and the evidence will show that Grant Hayes is not guilty of murder," Durham said.
Ackerson's head, torso and a leg were found July 24, 2011, 1,200 miles from Raleigh in a creek across the street from the home of Amanda Hayes' sister in Richmond, Texas – about 60 miles south of Houston, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger told jurors.
"This isn't just a case about a dismemberment. This isn't just a case about a custody dispute," Zellinger said. "This is a case about the hate that leads to dismemberment. This is a case about the hate that came from that custody dispute."
The Hayeses, Zellinger said, wanted to "obliterate" Ackerson and didn't want her having any part in the lives of her 2- and 3-year-old sons.
"This is a case that is so calculated, so malignant and so destructive that Laura Ackerson disappears off the face of the earth for 11 days," Zellinger said.
Hours after Grant Hayes invited Ackerson to his apartment, the state contends, he was in a Raleigh Walmart near his home buying a plastic tarp, a saw, blades and other items.
While police were launching their investigation into Ackerson's disappearance, Hayes, his wife, sons and baby daughter arrived in Texas with Ackerson's remains in coolers.
As police found Ackerson's car in the parking lot of an apartment complex next to where the Hayeses lived, "Grant and Amanda are taking a boat trip with those coolers," Zellinger said.
But Durham said his client was afraid to call police because no one would believe that Ackerson's death wasn't intentional.
She had arrived for a mid-week visit with her boys at the Hayeses' home, during which she and the defendant agreed in a handwritten note that he would get full custody of the children in exchange for $25,000, Durham said.
Grant Hayes left his wife alone with Ackerson while he went to get his sons and then, "something happened," Durham said. "We don't know what."
But Ackerson's business partner, Chevon Mathes, and best friend Heidi Schumacher, both testified Thursday afternoon that Ackerson's top priority was her boys and that she was hopeful that she would gain full custody of them at a hearing set for August 2011.
"Laura loved her children more than anything, and it showed in every action that she took," Schumacher said.
They also said that Ackerson didn't trust Grant Hayes and expressed to them on numerous occasions concerns for her safety.
"She told me that she feared for her life," Mathes said. "She told me she didn't know what Grant was capable of, and if anything ever happened to her, Grant did it."
Ackerson, they both said, would never have gone to his apartment.
"The only reason I could think of (was) if he asked her to come because he was going to give her custody of the kids," Schumacher said. "That's the only reason I could think of."
It wasn't until July 18, 2011, when Mathes called Schumacher, that she learned that Ackerson was missing.
"I fell to my knees and started bawling," Schumacher said. "They told me that Laura was missing and asked for any information that I might have. I knew she wasn't missing."