Amanda Hayes takes the stand in her defense during Raleigh murder trial

ablythe@newsobserver.comFebruary 11, 2014 

— Amanda Hayes alternated between words choked in emotion and adamantly bold as she testified Tuesday in her defense at her murder trial.

The 41-year-old former actress, art-supply store owner, cosmetologist, real estate agent and mother of two often broke down in tears as she spoke in a quavering voice about her two children – a grown daughter in her 20s who had been by her side during good times and bad and a baby girl only several months old when Laura Jean Ackerson of Kinston was killed and dismembered.

Hayes is accused of working in concert with her husband, Grant Hayes, to kill Ackerson, the mother of his two sons, in July 2011. Grant Hayes, a musician and talented sketchbook artist who was unemployed in 2011, was involved in a bitter custody battle with Ackerson, a 27-year-old graphic artist in the process of building her own business.

Prosecutors contend the couple collaborated to dismember Ackerson in their Wake County apartment and dump the body parts in a small Texas creek.

Grant Hayes was convicted in Wake County Superior Court in September of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility for parole. He has appealed his verdict.

The defense team representing Grant Hayes contended at his trial that Amanda Hayes was responsible for Ackerson’s death, though they described it as a terrible accident. They acknowledged that Grant Hayes helped with the disposal of the body.

“I absolutely did not,” Amanda Hayes testified Tuesday.

During hours on the witness stand Tuesday, Amanda Hayes described a period of chaos, desperation, fear and manipulation.

The last time Amanda Hayes said she saw Ackerson alive was on July 13, 2011. Ackerson had been in the Hayeses’ Wake County apartment arguing with Grant Hayes over custody of their sons. Amanda Hayes said Ackerson bumped into her during that argument. Grant Hayes stepped in, according to Amanda Hayes, and Ackerson fell to the floor.

Amanda Hayes testified that Grant Hayes then instructed her to take all the children out of the apartment while he sought emergency assistance. He didn’t want Ackerson’s sons to see her on the floor and worry, she said, so she loaded the boys and her daughter into a car and drove around Raleigh for a while.

When she got home, the apartment was smoky, and her husband was sitting quietly by himself. She asked where Ackerson was, and he mumbled something about her having left.

Silence bought by fear

Amanda Hayes said it was not until she was at her sister’s house in Texas that she knew Ackerson was dead and that her body was in pieces in the U-Haul they had pulled for miles.

“I’ll never forget it,” Amanda Hayes said. “He was smoking a cigarette, and he was really calm and he told me, ‘What would you do if I told you Laura was dead?’”

Grant Hayes told his wife that he panicked. “He told me he got scared, that he was a black man with a dead white woman, and nobody was going to believe him,” Amanda Hayes recounted.

Amanda Hayes became tearful several times while talking about her fears for herself and the safety of her family.

“I had to help…,” Amanda Hayes said, “or none of us were getting back to Raleigh.”

The sister that Amanda Hayes had visited was older and a parental figure.

That sister testified earlier in the trial that Amanda Hayes had come to her and told her that Ackerson was dead and she had “hurt her bad.” The sister also said Amanda Hayes nodded affirmatively when she asked if she was covering for her husband.

“I was so afraid,” Amanda Hayes said. “I had invited this guy into my family. … I was trying to get him away from my family.”

Prosecutors are expected to pick up their cross-examination on Wednesday with Hayes on the witness stand. The prosecution rested its case on Monday after calling more than 40 witnesses during 10 days of testimony.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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