Local News

Judge orders separate murder trials for Raleigh couple

Posted April 22, 2013 11:40 a.m. EDT
Updated April 24, 2013 11:13 a.m. EDT

— A Superior Court judge in Wake County ordered separate trials Monday for a married couple charged with first-degree murder in the July 2011 death of a Kinston woman.

Grant Hayes, 33, and Amanda Hayes, 41, were set to go to trial together next month in the death of his ex-girlfriend, Laura Jean Ackerson, but Judge Donald Stephens ruled in favor of a motion from Grant Hayes' attorney to sever the joint trial.

Stephens cited concerns of a mistrial and denying each defendant their right to a fair trial.

"I know that we can get this right by trying them one at a time," he said. "I have serious questions as to whether I can do it under this situation if we try them at the same time."

The pair was to go to trial May 20 after defense attorneys for both defendants agreed to a joint trial, but earlier this month, Amanda Hayes' defense attorney filed several motions claiming that she participated in Ackerson's death while under duress, feared for her life and that Grant Hayes, while in jail, threatened to kill her.

"Clearly, based on filings of Amanda Hayes and her attorneys, it is now apparent that we have antagonistic defenses based on the readings of her motions," Grant Hayes' defense attorney, Jeff Cutler, said. "Clearly, they're going to attempt to make him look bad. That is part of their defense, and I don't believe that's a manageable way to try a joint trial."

The state opposed the motion, arguing, in part, that separate trials would be a huge expense for the state and that the investigation also shows that both defendants were equally culpable and should be tried together.

"The state's evidence on Amanda Hayes shows her as, not just a conspirator and not just acting in concert, but as a principal in this crime," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said.

Amanda Hayes is still scheduled to go to trial next month, but Stephens tentatively scheduled Grant Hayes' new trial date for late August. Amanda Hayes' trial date could also change depending upon who the state wants to try first.

Ackerson, the mother of two of Grant Hayes' children, disappeared in mid-July 2011 after she was last known to be in Raleigh with her children. Her remains were found July 24, 2011, in a creek in Richmond, Texas – about 60 miles south of Houston – where Amanda Hayes' sister lives.

Prosecutors have not publicly spoken of a motive, saying in court only that Ackerson's death was the result of domestic violence and that there is a "tremendous amount" of evidence against Grant Hayes.

Ackerson's family members have said the two were in a custody battle over the children.

How the 27-year-old Ackerson died is unclear. Medical examiners found injuries that suggested a sharp force injury to her neck, but there were also signs that someone tried to strangle her.

Texas authorities who found Ackerson's body and later turned the case over to Raleigh police, say they believe the Hayeses killed Ackerson, cut up her body and carried it in coolers to Texas, where they disposed of her remains in the creek.