Prosecutors wrap up their case in Grant Hayes murder trial

ablythe@newsobserver.comSeptember 12, 2013 

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Grant Ruffin Hayes, 34, stands accused of killing Laura Jean Ackerson of Kinston in July 2011 and dumping her dismembered body in a Texas creek.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Grant Hayes, the musician from Wake County accused of killing the mother of two of his children, now knows the extent of the prosecution’s case against him.

On Thursday, two weeks after making their opening statement, Wake County prosecutors wrapped up their side of the case after calling 47 witnesses and introducing more than 500 pieces of evidence.

Hayes, 34, is accused of killing Laura Jean Ackerson, the mother of his two preschool-age sons.

Amanda Hayes, 40, who married Grant Hayes in April 2010, is also accused in the murder case. Her trial is set for January.

Karen Berry, an older sister of Amanda Hayes, was the first witness the defense team called Thursday afternoon.

In opening statements on Aug. 29, the defense conceded that Grant Hayes participated in the dismembering and disposing of Ackerson’s body.

But Grant Hayes, his attorneys argued, was not the killer. They pointed the finger at Amanda Hayes instead.

“This case is about a man covering up his wife’s action,” attorney Will Durham contended in his opening statement.

For the past two weeks, prosecutors have described Hayes as a father and local musician engaged in a bitter custody dispute with Ackerson before her death in July 2011.

Prosecutors say Grant Hayes lured Ackerson to Raleigh from Kinston, where she lived and worked as a graphic designer, as part of a “malignant, calculated” plot to kill her.

The defense contends the death of Ackerson occurred in a “spontaneous, unpredictable way,” that Grant Hayes left his wife, Amanda Hayes, with Ackerson and came back to find her dead in their Wake County apartment.

Berry testified on Thursday that Amanda Hayes came to her Texas home after Ackerson had been reported missing.

Detectives have said Ackerson’s remains were placed in several large coolers, loaded into a rented U-Haul trailer that the Hayeses then towed more than 1,250 miles to Berry’s home.

“She came in and she told me she had hurt Laura and hurt her bad,” Berry said in response to a question from defense attorney Jeff Cutler.

The sisters then went outside to a swing, where Grant Hayes joined them. They asked Berry whether there was anywhere on the property that had a big hole.

Berry told her sister where to find the keys to a boat, according to investigators.

On Thursday, Berry acknowledged that Amanda Hayes liked to fish and was comfortable in the waterways around her home.

Authorities in Richmond, Texas, discovered Ackerson’s body on July 24, 2011, in a creek about 100 yards from Berry’s home.

Berry testified on Thursday that she prayed when law enforcement officers arrived at her home. She prayed that she would be strong enough to tell the investigators what she knew.

Defense attorneys for Amanda Hayes have said in court documents and pretrial hearings that their client has an alibi for the time of Ackerson’s death but was coerced into helping dispose of the body.

They have characterized Grant Hayes as an intimidator who threatened Amanda Hayes before and after her arrest.

Berry, who helped raise Amanda Hayes and considered herself a mother figure in her sister’s life, echoed similar concerns.

At one point during the visit in July 2011, Berry said she took her sister aside and asked her whether she “was covering for Grant.”

“She looked me straight in the eye,” Berry testified Thursday, “and she shook her head.”

Judge Don Stephens, who has presided over the trial, noted for the court record that Berry shook her head up and down as if to nod yes.

Prosecutors began questioning Berry shortly before the trial broke for the night.

It was unclear Thursday how many witnesses the defense team plans to call. Court officials have estimated the trial could last from two to three weeks.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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