Local News

Fearful Amanda Hayes wanted to leave husband, she says

Posted February 12, 2014 8:39 a.m. EST
Updated February 14, 2014 10:19 a.m. EST

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Becky Holt on Feb. 12, 2014, cross-examines Amanda Hayes, on trial for first-degree murder in the July 13, 2011, death of Laura Ackerson. (Chad Flowers/WRAL)

— Days after Amanda Hayes says she and her husband took an evening boat ride in the Texas creek where Laura Ackerson's dismembered remains were found in July 2011, the 41-year-old mother, on trial for murder, said she had hoped to escape her husband, who had threatened her life and had become increasingly paranoid in the days after Ackerson's death.

"I kept trying to get ahold of Sha and to get Lily with her," Hayes said Tuesday from the witness stand, referring to her daughters, who were 22 years old and 1 month old at the time. "My intention was to leave with Sha and Lily. That was my intention – to get away."

But Hayes, who had been in Kinston with her husband at his parents' home, said she couldn't reach her adult daughter in Raleigh and had no means to get away. The SUV she shared with Grant Hayes was their only vehicle, and he had kept the keys, she said.

Raleigh police arrested the pair early on July 25, 2011, after Texas authorities found Ackerson's torso and part of her leg in the creek across the street from the home of Amanda Hayes' sister, Karen Berry.

Grant Hayes went to trial last year and was found guilty in September after a jury deliberated for less than an hour. Amanda Hayes is days away from learning her fate in the crime.

Defense attorney Johnny Gaskins says his client didn't know Ackerson had died during a visit to the Hayeses' Raleigh apartment on July 13, 2011, and that Grant Hayes concealed Ackerson's death by hiding her body in Kinston.

Amanda Hayes didn't find out, Gaskins says, until Grant Hayes threatened her at Berry's home in Texas if she didn't help get rid of the body.

The defense indicated Wednesday it plans to call at least one other witness to testify before resting its case.

Wake County prosecutors, who are expected to call one rebuttal witness before closing arguments, say Amanda Hayes was resentful of and angry at Ackerson because of a bitter dispute between Ackerson and Grant Hayes over their 2- and 3-year-old sons.

Amanda Hayes, they say, also admitted to Berry that she was the cause of Ackerson's death.

But Amanda Hayes said Wednesday that – despite "a couple of different run-ins" – she and Ackerson got along when they interacted.

But Grant Hayes got upset when she was nice to Ackerson, she said, and he tried to keep them from talking, because it made it appear as if he were the problem in the legal fight over the children.

"I honestly was feeling sorry for Laura, because it appeared to me that she didn't really have a support system," Amanda Hayes said, adding that everything she knew about Ackerson she had learned from her husband.

At one point in the year prior to the alleged crime, Ackerson had also sent Amanda Hayes a thank you card for being "a positive force in the universe and an extreme blessing to my family."

As the custody fight escalated, it had placed an emotional and financial toll on all involved, Amanda Hayes added, and she tried to talk her husband into giving Ackerson custody.

"It had been a conversation of ours many times throughout that year," she said.

Grant Hayes, she said, was considering the possibility.

On July 13, 2011, however, Amanda Hayes admitted, she got upset after learning that he offered Ackerson $25,000 to give up the custody fight. She said they didn't have the money, noting they were broke and were being evicted from their apartment.

"I was upset at both of them. I just turned around and walked off," Amanda Hayes said. "I just wanted out of there. I didn't want to be around either of them."

That's why she ignored Ackerson when she wanted to hold Lily, Amanda Hayes said. That upset Ackerson, who followed Amanda Hayes through the apartment, tripping on a rug and bumping into her.

"Grant saw the whole thing, and he came to her, and he just grabbed her to pull her back," Amanda Hayes said.

They fell and knocked over a chair, she added, but she went on with the baby into the bedroom.

As for Ackerson –

"I never heard her. I never saw her again," Amanda Hayes said. "Ever."