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Defense: Amanda Hayes didn't initially know Ackerson died

Amanda Hayes' defense attorney said during opening statements Monday that she didn't know initially that Laura Ackerson was dead and found out days later when her husband coerced her to help dispose of his ex-girlfriend's dismembered remains.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A defense attorney for a woman accused of killing her husband's ex-girlfriend told a Wake County jury Monday that she didn't initially know about the crime and that it wasn't until several days later that she found out her husband had hidden the truth from her.

By that time, attorney Johnny Gaskins said, Grant Hayes, 34, had threatened his wife, Amanda Hayes, so that she would help him dispose of 27-year-old Laura Ackerson's dismembered remains in a Richmond, Texas, creek.

"Grant had concealed everything from her," he said during opening statements of Amanda Hayes' first-degree murder trial. "Grant the sociopath and master manipulator had hidden from her – and from everyone in the entire world – what he had done. He didn't want anyone to know."

But Wake County prosecutors, who successfully sought Grant Hayes' conviction last year for Ackerson's death, said Amanda Hayes, 41, not only knew about the crime but confessed to it – something Grant Hayes contended at his own trial and still maintains.

"'I hurt her. I hurt her bad. She's dead,'" Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said, forecasting for jurors the state's evidence in the case. "Those are the words of Amanda Hayes to her own sister. Those are the words of Amanda Hayes six days after Laura Ackerson came over to the apartment."

Authorities say Ackerson died July 13, 2011, after going to the Hayeses' Raleigh home for a rare mid-week visit with her two young sons who were at the center of a bitter and contentious custody fight with Grant Hayes.

Her remains were found 11 days later, and on July 25, 2011, the Hayeses were arrested and charged in the case.

"Laura went over to that apartment, and she disappeared," Zellinger said. "This is a case about the killing of a human being and the barbarities and brutalities that Amanda Hayes and Grant Hayes exerted on her body, such that she disappeared off the face of the earth for 11 days."

Amanda Hayes, who also faces a charge of accessory to murder, resented Ackerson so much, Zellinger said, that she treated her as if she didn't exist – something Ackerson had written about in her diary.

"She states that Amanda calls her 'psycho crazy.' Amanda looks at her with disdain. Amanda says, 'I’m now responsible for your kids because you're psycho crazy,'" Zellinger said.

Gaskins, however, said his client played the role of "peacekeeper" in the custody dispute and tried to convince both sides to get along for the sake of the children.

It was the custody case that had brought Ackerson to the Hayeses' apartment the evening of July 13, 2011, Gaskins said, when Ackerson tripped and injured herself.

Grant Hayes had his wife take the boys out for dinner so they wouldn't see emergency workers treat their mother, Gaskins said. But when Amanda Hayes returned home that evening, her husband told her Ackerson had just bumped her head, was OK and that she ended up going back to her home in Kinston.

"Amanda went to bed believing everything was fine," Gaskins said. "There was nothing to indicate anything bad had happened."

It was on their impromptu trip to Texas to see Amanda Hayes' sister, on July 18, 2011, when Grant Hayes told his wife that Ackerson had actually died, the defense contends.

That's also when he threatened her life and the lives of the children – including their 1-month-old daughter – if she didn't convince her sister to help them get rid of Ackerson's remains.

"'If you don't do it, then none of us are getting out of here alive,'" Gaskins quoted Grant Hayes to the jury. "And if I can't do it, then I can get it done with one telephone call."

Grant Hayes, Gaskins said, then whacked Amanda Hayes across the leg with a machete and threatened her again.

"'This is what you can expect if you don't think I mean business,'" Gaskins said.

The next day, he said, Amanda Hayes told her sister that she accidentally hurt Ackerson but also indicated to her sister that she was covering for her husband.

"All of the evidence, we contend, will show that she did not participate in the homicide," Gaskins said. "That question, we believe, is simply off the table."

He did, however, concede that she helped dispose of Ackerson's remains but said she did so only because she was under duress.

"We don't dispute that she did that. We dispute the reason she did that," he said.

Gaskins also told the jury that Amanda Hayes, herself, was also a victim of Grant Hayes and that the way he treated her was similar to how he treated Ackerson during their four-year relationship.

"You will find that, throughout the evidence, there are enormous parallels between how Grant treated Laura and how he treated Amanda, how he manipulated them, how he controlled both of them, how he lied to both of them," Gaskins said. "Grant saw women as people who needed to be controlled by him. They needed to be submissive to him."

Grant Hayes had used his son as "social bait," Gaskins said, to get to Amanda Hayes, whom he met in 2009 in the Virgin Islands. There, she, an actress and a widow with money, owned an art shop, and Grant Hayes worked as a musician.

"What he saw was the opportunity to maneuver himself in Amanda's life so that he could get her money," Gaskins said.

They married in April 2010, and by the end of that year, Gaskins said, Grant Hayes controlled her money and had sold $70,000 worth of her jewelry so that he could travel the country to play his music.

"Amanda was the one who was left at home with the two boys," he said. "Grant had managed to isolate her. He had her in the home, and he was out gallivanting around the country, spending her money. By July 2011, she was broke."

Like Grant Hayes controlled and manipulated his wife in their relationship, Gaskins said, he also did so after Ackerson's death.

"Grant the master deceiver was telling Amanda you've got to tell your sister you're the one to hurt her," Gaskins said. "He wanted it to appear that it was Amanda, not him, who had caused Laura's death."


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