RALEIGH — Grant Hayes, the 33-year-old man accused of killing a Kinston woman whose body parts were pulled from a Texas creek in July 2011, pleaded not guilty on Friday to murder.
The plea, in Wake County Superior Court, came 10 days before Hayes is scheduled to go on trial Aug. 26 for the death of Laura Jean Ackerson, the mother of two his children.
Hayes of Wake County and Amanda Perry Hayes, 40, a couple who never married, are both charged with murder in Ackerson’s death.
Grant Hayes, according to family members of the victim, was involved in an acrimonious custody battle with Ackerson in Lenoir County.
It is not clear how Ackerson died. The cause of death listed on an autopsy report was “undetermined homicidal violence.”
Trying pair separately
Initially, prosecutors planned to try the couple together, but Judge Donald Stephens ruled in April that it would be best to separate their trials in the interest of fairness for each.
Amanda Hayes made a brief appearance at the hearing Friday and the judge asked her attorneys whether she would be available to testify at the trial of Hayes.
Defense lawyers Johnny Gaskins and Rosemary Godwin said it was too early for them to decide whether Amanda Hayes would be willing to testify. She is scheduled to be tried in January.
Amanda Hayes’ attorneys have contended in court documents that Grant Hayes intimidated her before and after her arrest.
Her attorneys say the musician, who also goes by the name Grant Haze, sent a letter from the Wake County jail after his arrest in which he threatened to kill Amanda Hayes.
They also say Amanda Hayes has an alibi for the time of Ackerson’s death but was coerced into helping dispose of the body.
Defense attorneys for Grant Hayes told Judge Stephens on Friday that they plan to try to elicit testimony from the sister of Amanda Hayes, testimony that they characterized as “a confession.”
The body of Ackerson was discovered by authorities in Richmond, Texas, on July 24, 2011, in a creek near the home of Amanda Hayes’ sister.
Mining ‘a confession’ for truth
Investigators believe that at least one of the Hayeses killed Ackerson and hacked her body into pieces. They contend the death occurred on July 13, 2011. They say the remains were placed in several large coolers and loaded into a rented U-Haul trailer that the couple then towed more than 1,250 miles to the home of Amanda Hayes’ sister near Houston, where they were dumped in a creek about 100 yards from the house.
Defense attorneys Jeff Cutler and Will Durham said Amanda Hayes made statements to her sister at the time, according to police reports, that they consider a confession.
The women, according to police reports, talked about where on the property they could dispose of the body. They considered dumping it in a well, but did not. They considered burning the body, but there was a ban on burning at the time, according to the defense lawyers. Then, according to the lawyers, the sister told Amanda Hayes about a boat and supplied her with the keys.
Defense attorneys for Amanda Hayes said Friday that what the defense team for Grant Hayes was characterizing as a “confession” was no such thing. They contend what Amanda Hayes told her sister was a way of expressing fear of Grant Hayes.