LaFayette, Ala., Nov. 14, 2006 -- A distraught daughter tells of finding a mother's body, the defendant's wife talks to a juror in the bathroom and the juror's dismissed, a defense lawyer finds it necessary to make a point by lying on the courtroom floor and graphic photographs show the jury the grisly crime scene -- all this and more on the first day of testimony in the trial of former Lanett City Councilman Barry Waites.
It wouldn't be a trial involving Jim Parkman if something strange didn't happen and Monday's first day of testimony in the trial of the former city councilman, accused of murdering his wife, Charlotte, in 1998, was no exception.
Damon Lewis, the chief deputy district attorney, presented the opening statement for the prosecution. He told the jurors he was from Alexander City and told them about his wife and three small children. He told the panel he had "no great stories about Red Hill or my father the ice cream man."
Then Lewis turned serious. "Charlotte Waites is dead. She was killed Aug. 4, 1998, my second day in the DA's office. Heather Waites found her that afternoon - dead."
He told how Charlotte was a "well thought of and respected member of the community" and a "teacher in Chambers County."
He said Charlotte Waites was at work the morning of August 4 and had a haircut appointment after which she went home planning to change and "dry her hair" and go on to a shower or tea.
"I suppose you are going to hear evidence Mr. Waites called Mrs. Waites frequently. He was actually acting mayor and he was supposed to attend a ribbon cutting at a pizza place that afternoon...I expect you're going to hear he told the Chamber of Commerce...he was working..."
Lewis told about the Ben Brown Estate in Chambers County. Mrs. Waites was supposed to go someplace to give the cousins some proceeds from the sale of the estate, to divide things up. "Mrs. Waites did not get to go...She got her hair done; she went home and she was killed."
"I expect the evidence to show no forced entry in the house...Charlotte Waites was strangled so severely it damaged her muscles, trachea, esophagus...Mrs. Waites' head was beaten on a blunt object, probably the floor..."
Waites had internal hemorrhaging of the brain according to Lewis.
"Mrs. Waites left that beauty parlor with make up on; finished drying her hair and changed to go to the shower.
"Evidence you're going to see - no makeup, pants suit, used to strangle her. Her purse was close to her.
Lewis said Charlotte "still had on her diamond wedding ring... I expect the evidence to be nothing was missing from the house. I expect the evidence to be when Heather came home early and found her mother she was hysterical, upset and called her father at the armory...Ernie Pierce was flagged down by Heather to go in."
Lewis says when police officers first got to the scene they "thought she'd fallen down the stairs." He says the police did secure the scene, something that was later disputed by Mr. Parkman.
Lewis says he expected evidence "of bloody towels" and the autopsy to show her "own blood under her fingernails where she was trying to break the ligature loose. The towel had her blood on it."
"I'm going to let a doctor explain to you what she died of.
"I expect police officers around the Waites home needed him to go down in the basement...Pay attention to how they describe Mr. Waites when he walks in the house and his actions...
"You're going to see, believe that Barry Waites killed Charlotte Waites...There is not going to be another plausible explanation. Charlotte Waites is dead. Barry Waites killed her in her own home.
Mr. Parkman came next with his usual "After hearing all that it doesn't seem like we stand much of a chance does it." Parkman then regales a new crowd with the story of grandma's pancakes "no matter how thin you make a pancake, it still has two sides."
"I'm not going to get into my children and where I live...Let's talk about 4:15 p.m. on Aug. 4. He was at the armory where he worked. He received a phone call...You're going to find out police wouldn't let him into the house..."
Parkman says police didn't want Mr. Waites to see the scene initially. Parkman then went on to outline how Waites finally saw his wife's body and got "shortness of breath" and grew "weak, pale." Parkman says Waites' heart rate was "about 190" according to paramedics. "They realized he'd gone into atrial fibrillation and they couldn't stop it...His life was in danger."
Parkman told the jury the doctor and Waites' heart rate was still in the 170s. He says the doctor "warned Mr. Waites of factors that could be dangerous...nothing else could be done except one procedure. He told the jury how the doctors put the paddles to Waites' heart and charged the heart trying to get the heartbeat rhythm down. He told the jury because this is such a big procedure, the doctor gave Waites some medication called Versed. He says "nothing happened...it didn't work" when they put the electricity to Waites. "They upped the amount of electricity...nothing happened...At this particular point in time they kept him overnight to monitor his heart rate and see what was going on."
Parkman then went on to discuss the murder scene where he talked about people "who came on the scene and walked all over the house" -"shouldn't happen" says the attorney. "One of the most critical things...to establish the time of death..that answers a lot of questions."
Parkman tells the jury establishing the time of death is "really very simple." Parkman says it requires the body temperature and the ambient temperature of the room. "The difference will tell you about the time of death - the exact time of death...Was it done? Why wasn't it?
He says there was speculation that the murder may have happened elsewhere in the house and asks whether or not investigators "vacuumed up all type of fiber evidence."
He told jurors they were going to hear Mrs. Waites had been strangled by her shirt/blouse and he asks the jury to recall as they're listening to the evidence if there were "any cells embedded in the collar...was it stretched in any way."
He tells the panel, "they did do some fingerprinting," "What did they do to find out about those fingerprints? Whose where they or whose they weren't?"
Parkman then goes back to why investigators didn't do "a scientific study" as to the time of death. He says the time of death shifted from 2:30 to 4:00 to 12:30. He says the investigators were "trying to fit evidence to the person instead of looking independently at what the evidence showed.."
Parkman warned the jurors to be careful about a timeline. He says the jury had to be sure they were comparing apples to apples. He told them it was vital to compare Central Time to Central Time and Eastern Time to Eastern Time.
"You're going to find Barry Waites went to his house for lunch...Waites got out of hospital a week later and went to the police to give a statement - no lawyer. He gave them the information that day they now use against him."
Parkman went on again to touch on the bloody towels and tell the jurors that in the end he would explain that to them. Then he moves back to Charlotte Waites' body. "The right hand is important...Look at what happened with the right wrist...You're going to find it was broken...blood under the fingernails, but nothing found under left hand fingernails. Why a broken hand would have it and a non-injured hand wouldn't?"
"I realize nobody likes lawyers. I mean come on. How many jokes and I agree with you...they have done of lot of things that are suspicious..."
Parkman says this is not a game. He says he's "not some high faluting guy that pulls stuff out of his sleeves and puts on a magic show."
He says he wants a chance to prove that what he has told them is the truth. Barry Waites was not the person who killed Charlotte Waites."
He tells them he is going to show other suspects and what the police did to check them out. "I will prove to you the things I've said are true."
It was a day that saw emotional testimony from Heather Waites, who described finding her mother's body in the foyer of the family home. Heather is now 29 years of age. On Aug. 4, 1998 when was 21. She was going to school in Auburn during the week. As the prosecutor shows Heather a picture of her with her mother and sister, Heather cries as she looks over the photo.
Then District Attorney E. Paul Jones asks Heather about whether or not she was aware of any financial difficulties her parents may have been having. No sir she replies. The D.A. asks her if her mother would have openly shared that kind of problem with her and Heather says no.
Heather tells the D.A. she drove a Honda Civic back then. She says her parents bought a trailer for her to reside in while she was in school in Auburn. She says her mother worked for the Chambers County Board of Education,"I want to say at the resource center." She says she saw her mother on a regular basis until her mother's death.
Heather says just prior to the day her mother died there were discussions between her and her parents about coming home. She had told them she wanted to try and get back home early but that it would probably be about 5:30-6:00 p.m.
"Everyone was expecting you at 5:30-6:00 not 3:30-4:00. What time did you get home?"
Heather tells the prosecutor she doesn't know the exact time but believes it to have been between 4:20-4:30 Eastern time. She says when she arrived home she parked near the basketball goal or a place to the left. She says she entered the house through the garage door. "It was open, not wide open, just a tad," says Heather.
Heather says her mother's vehicle was there and it wouldn't normally have been there unless she had stopped by the house to go to the bathroom. Heather says there were no broken door knobs or anything and that her mother's normal habit was to the her purse upstairs when she came in.
Next Heather describes what she found when she got home on Aug. 4, 1998: "I walked into the kitchen. I laid food on the counter...started calling her name." She says she eventually went through the kitchen and rounded the corner into the den area and "turned the corner to go upstairs and that's when I saw her. I went to her, bent down and touched her leg. - It was cold. Please momma get up and she didn't...I ran into the den, picked up the phone, dialed 911 and then I called my dad and told him I thought momma was dead."
She says she just wanted to get out of the house. The prosecutor asks her about her mother's purse and Heather says yes to a question about the purse being upright. She said she didn't recall anything being outside the purse.
Heather says she doesn't recall saying anything to her dad on the phone other than what she stated above and she remembers, "He said, ‘I'll be right there." She says she did not describe to her dad how her mom was position when she discovered the body.
She says family friend Ernie Pierce drove up and "I just told him my momma's inside." She says she was still outside when her father arrived. She says she doesn't recall what her father said when he arrived, but that he "gave me a hug." She says she doesn't remember any other phone conversations that afternoon. She says at one point she was told medics were going to take "him to the hospital to have him checked out." She says at the hospital she heard a conversation involving her Uncle Darryl who stated, "This was not an accident." She says at this time her dad "started to hyperventilate."
When she found out later that she would be questioned by police. Heather says her father told her she "better watch what she said, because they were looking at us too (her and her sister)."
Heather says as a result of her mother's death she and her sister stood to receive two checks apiece - one for about $44,000 and another for $75,000. She said she and her sister signed the checks over to her father and in return he was to turn over to them some property from the Brown estate. She says neither she nor her sister received any property for her dad. She says her dad never told her he was a suspect, nor did he ever talk about her mother's death.
Mr. Parkman then cross examines Heather and asks her if she knew how long her parents had been married to which she replies that she believes they were married in 1971. Parkman tells her he wasn't there when she came home and found her mother but "when you walked in that was a traumatic experience?" "Yes, sir."
Parkman shows Heather a handwritten statement from 8/8/1998 in which she wrote, "I walked into the den and noticed my mom's purse on the floor with the contents scattered."
The next witness was local radio/TV personality E.L. "Ernie" Pierce. He says he lived near the Waites house and describes himself as being a "casual friends. Barry and Charlotte were members of our church and members of my Sunday School class at one time."
He said he lived about a block, block and a half away. He says he listened to the police scanner as part of his employment. Pierce says as he was pulling into his yard on Aug. 4, "I heard a Lanett dispatcher go...female cold to the touch and not breathing" over the scanner. He says he recognized the address given as the Waites residence.
The neighbor says he sat in his car "for a moment, decided to drive up and see if I could help." He says as he arrived in front of the Waites house he saw a Lanett police car and motioned to the police car the location of the house. He says as he got out of his car, Heather came running shouting, "Help my mother! Help my mother!"
Pierce says initially he thought it might have been Barry Waites' mother. Pierce says he told Heather to "show me where she is and we ran into the carport...through the kitchen...I saw Charlotte's body in the foyer of the house..Heather was right with me and she was very distraught and only seconds later Lt. Robbie Seegers came in and I motioned for Seegers to take Heather out."
He says he knelt beside Charlotte Waites' body. "Charlotte was lying on her back with her arms...above her head." Pierce says her stomach was exposed. "I felt her stomach it was cold...a few seconds after that Lanett EMTs came in."
Pierce says he found the light switch and turned it on and then he stood up so the EMTs could "take care of her body."
The government then takes Pierce through a series of photographs of the crime scene asking him if the photos depicted things the way he remembered them for each one. Following the government, Mr. Parkman does a little demonstration for the jury about how Mr. Pierce's testimony and the photos differ. Parkman takes off his coat and lays down on the floor and asks Mr. Pierce to help him position his arms to the position Mr. Pierce says they were in, which is not exactly the same as the photos. Mr. Jones warns Mr. Parkman that if he gets down on the floor, the prosecution does not have a mechanism to help him get back up.
Despite Judge Young's explicit instructions not to discuss the case with anyone and "do not try to learn anything about this case, Monday was also a day that saw a juror sent packing when she failed to report contact in the bathroom with the current Mrs. Waites.
Judge Young was none to thrilled with the current wife of the defendant telling her at one point he would put her in jail if she even thought about talking to another juror. The government wanted a mistrial, but Judge Young simply sent the juror, whose daughter is home schooled and was taking copious notes a row back of her mother, home for good.
There was a lot more testimony in this case on Monday and I will try to get it updated sometime further on Tuesday. WSFA.com unfortunately will most likely not be back in LaFayette for the conclusion of this trial, but will make every effort to keep you informed of what happens over the next couple of days, but with much less detail.