Federal Trial for Former Maxwell Airman Begins in 2003 Killing of Statesboro Student

COLUMBUS, Ga. , March 5, 2007 -- Assistant U.S. Attorney John Lynch said Monday that Alabama-based airman Michael Antonio Natson lured a young woman to a remote area of Fort Benning, shot the pregnant woman in the back of the head and left her body to be found by hunters.  His remarks came during opening statements in Natson's capital murder trial in Columbus, Georgia.

The government and the defense have agreed in stipulations that the remains recovered "were those of Ardena Marie Carter and her unborn child," also "the paternity of the fetus of Ardena Marie Carter could not be scientifically determined because there was an insufficient amount of DNA material contained in the recovered remains of Ms. Carter and her unborn child;" and that a DNA test of the fetus excluded another man, "Jermaine 'Ron' Christian as the father of the unborn child."

Natson is accused of murder of Ardena Marie Carter and her unborn child.  According to court documents the child was "approximately 28 weeks."

Lynch told jurors that Natson thought Carter was going to seek child support money from him. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the 26-year-old Natson.

Carter was last seen alive by friends who dropped her off at her home on September 11, 2003. A student at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Carter was studying to be a teacher.

Hunters found her skeletal remains in a remote area of Fort Benning on December 16th, 2003. She had been shot to death with a pistol. The case is being handled in federal court because she was killed on a U.S. military reservation.

Natson, also from Statesboro, spent from August 1997 until June 2004 in the Army Reserves according to his Pretrial Services report.  According to the report the defendant says he "never separated from the Army, but received a transfer from inactive status to the Air Force Reserves."  From 2002 through 2004 according to the same report he lived primarily in Guantanamo, Cuba and Ft. Benning, Georgia.

He joined the Air Force Reserves in 2004 and went on active duty at Maxwell Air Force Base in February 2005 says the court document.  He was assigned to Maxwell at the time he was charged in the death.  He had no prior criminal history outside of "several traffic citations, ranging in severity fro Speeding to Disregarding a Traffic Control Device.

Defense attorney David Baugh told jurors the testimony would show that investigators seized on Natson as a suspect and tailored their case to fit that presumption.

Character reference letters presented to the court in 2005 describe Mr. Natson as an airman at Maxwell as "without a doubt one of the sharpest young airmen,"..."dedicated...an invaluable asset to the Air Force."  MSgt James T. Morrow said, "I proudly and strongly stand behind SrA Natson!"

A president of a bank where Michael Natson's mother worked and at which Natson worked himself as a courier described him as having "a polite and helpful demeanor...a thoughtful, considerate and respectful young man.  In short, Michael reflected those qualities that we each value, love of family, respect for others and commitment to duty."

Another letter described Natson as "honest and trustworthy...who has morals, self-worth and a sense of responsibility.  During his life he has never been in any trouble in the community or with the legal system....He cares for his family and the well being of all life and individuals...."

Associated Press contributed to this report.