Raleigh man pleads not guilty in ex-girlfriend's July 2011 slaying
Posted August 16, 2013 11:27 a.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2013 9:05 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Defense attorneys for a Raleigh man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend have asked a Wake County judge to allow testimony in his upcoming trial about an alleged "confession" his wife made in which she said she shoved the victim and "hurt her bad."
Grant Ruffin Hayes, 34, faces a first-degree murder charge in the July 2011 death of Laura Jean Ackerson, 27, whose dismembered body was found in a creek in Richmond, Texas – about 60 miles south of Houston.
Hayes was arraigned Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to the crime. Jury selection in his trial is expected to begin Aug. 26.
Hayes’ wife, Amanda Perry Hayes, 41, also faces a murder charge in the case. One of several pre-trial motions before Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens on Friday centered on a statement she made to her sister, who, at the time of the crime, lived about 100 yards from where Ackerson's remains were found.
"We believe that Mr. Hayes' right to present a defense would be injured if we cannot stand up in opening (statements) – after the state tells their story of custody battles and dismemberment – and say 'Yeah, but the other person who's sitting there said she's the one who did this, that's she's the one who hurt Laura,'" attorney Will Durham said.
Prosecutors objected to the motion, saying in part that the statements were bits and pieces taken from police interviews and are out of context.
"The statements she's made were so essentially choppy and unclear that I think it's difficult to rule on them when there's so much attached to them," Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said.
Stephens decided to wait to rule on the motion until the sister can testify and to see if Amanda Hayes – awaiting a January trial date – decides whether or not she would be willing to take the stand, if called.
Her defense attorneys said it was too soon to decide and disagreed with Grant Hayes' attorneys' characterization of the statement.
"We will ultimately conclude that it is not a confession and that the use of the word 'confession' is rather loose," attorney Johnny Gaskins said.
Authorities have not publicly spoken of a motive, but in search warrants, investigators say Grant Hayes and Ackerson were in a "contentious child custody case" involving their two children and that the Hayeses invited Ackerson to their home on July 13, 2011.
That was the last time Ackerson was seen alive. Several days later, police found her car in a parking lot of an apartment complex near the Hayeses' home. Investigators also learned the couple rented a U-Haul and drove to Texas.
How Ackerson died is unclear. An autopsy report said the cause of death was "undetermined homicidal violence."
Medical examiners found injuries that suggested a sharp force injury to her neck and injuries to her neck that pointed to possible strangulation.
Defense attorneys told Stephens Friday that some of those injuries might have occurred during a preliminary investigation by the local medical examiner's office in Texas and that they were concerned how jurors might view the findings.
"The reality is it could have been done a hundred different ways," Durham said.
Stephens reserved ruling on the matter until trial.