Testimony: Exact cause of Ackerson's violent death uncertain
Posted February 6
Raleigh, N.C. — Laura Ackerson's dismembered remains were in such bad condition that North Carolina's chief medical examiner was unable to determine just how the 27-year-old Kinston mother of two died when authorities say she was killed inside the Raleigh apartment of her ex-boyfriend more than three years ago.
"My opinion as to the cause of death in this case was undetermined homicidal violence," Dr. Deborah Radisch testified Wednesday in the trial of Amanda Smith Hayes, 41, who is accused of first-degree murder and accessory after the fact to murder in the July 13, 2011, death.
But Radisch did note during the autopsy examination that Ackerson had a sharp puncture wound to the fourth cervical vertebra of the spine as well as crushed thyroid cartilage that she said was consistent with some type of asphyxia or blunt force trauma to the neck.
"In my opinion, this was a death due to external means, and that the external means were intentionally inflicted, but I cannot tell you for sure what the cause of death was," she told jurors.
What Wake County prosecutors say they do know is that Hayes and her husband, Grant Hayes, murdered Ackerson, cut up her body to get it out of their third-floor apartment and dumped it six days later in a Texas creek across the street from Amanda Hayes' sister's home.
The sister, Karen Berry, who led Raleigh police to the creek when they showed up knocking on her door, testified Wednesday that Amanda Hayes also admitted to killing Ackerson during an argument.
But defense attorneys say their client had no knowledge of Ackerson's death and that she confessed when she did find out about it – still thinking it was accidental – only because Grant Hayes had threatened to kill her.
Grant Hayes, 34, was convicted of the crime in September and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Raleigh Police Sgt. Robert Latour testified Wednesday that Berry recalled the conversation with her sister during three interviews spanning approximately seven hours – at first crying so hard he could barely understand her.
By the third interview, however, "she became progressively clearer. She became more detailed. She became more consistent," he said. "She had to get it off her chest and tell the truth. It looked like it had weighed on her."