MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Three witnesses took the stand Thursday in the capital murder trial of Mario Woodward. Woodward is accused of killing Montgomery police officer Keith Houts during a traffic stop in September, 2006.
The suspect's former live-in girlfriend, Tiffany Surles, took the stand in his capital murder trial and testified that on the same day officer Houts was shot, September 28, 2006, she and a friend were going to Birmingham to go shopping. She said Woodward called and wanted to join them.
It was what happened on the way to Birmingham that she seemed to have a hard time explaining. Surles began crying on the stand and asked to see her lawyer. She then asked the court to take a break before she could explain what happened next.
Once the witness regained her composure, she said that Woodward had called someone on his cell phone and told them a policeman had pulled him over for no reason. According to the woman's testimony Woodward told the person on the phone that the officer went to the driver's side and Woodward shot him.
Defense attorney Richard Keith reacted to her testimony by saying, " Even she [Surles] admitted that she has a history of lying, lied under oath in the statements, and it certainly makes one very skeptical of the statements when they are admitted liars."
Furthermore, Keith says jurors should be skeptical of Surles accounts because, "she's also claimed she's hoping for a deal [from prosecutors]."
Surles and her friend, Wendy Walker, were arrested when they returned from their trip to Birmingham; they were held on a charge of hindering prosecution. The charge stemmed from the fact that the two women didn't tell the truth in the beginning, saying they lied at first because Mario told them to do so. Surles said she and her friend were also scared of Woodward.
Wendy Walker, also testified Thursday. Walker said she saw Mario with a gun before he threw something out of the car window on their way to Birmingham. According to police the gun used in the Houts shooting has never been found.
Wanted to burn his clothes
Another witness took the stand Thursday to point the finger at Mario Woodward. Vernon Cunningham of Birmingham stated for the record that Woodward came to see him while he was in the Magic City. Cunningham alleges that Woodward admitted to shooting a police officer even after the officer had fallen to the ground.
Prosecutors presented ashes into evidence during Cunningham's late afternoon testimony. The ashes were allegedly the remains of Mario Woodward's clothing, which Cunningham claimed the suspect asked him to burn.
The defense refuted Cunningham's accounts saying his statements became a lot more detailed between his first and second accounts. Woodward's attorneys attribute his extra knowledge to the fact that he might have been listening to news reports to gather details.
Houts family sits on front row
It was an emotional day for the family of officer Keith Houts. His parents and sister sat on the front from of the courtroom while prosecutors pulled out clothing and equipment that the MPD officer was wearing the day he was shot.
Ashley Houts, widow of the fallen officer, sat at a front table with tears in her eyes as prosecutors presented evidence to the jury. Graphic images of the crime scene were projected onto a large screen for all to see.
If things are looking bad for Woodward, the defense isn't showing it. "Any time a defendant has been indicted by a grand jury and charged with capital murder things start out not looking good," said defense attorney Richard Keith, " [because] you can assume there is some evidence to get them to that point and time."
But, adds Keith, hopefully a jury has been selected that will remain fair and impartial in their decision.