RALEIGH — The nine women and three men who will deliberate the fate of Amanda Hayes, the 41-year-old woman accused of helping her husband murder the mother of her stepsons, were sent home early Wednesday as snow began to blanket the Triangle.
Hayes, a former art-supply store owner who has worked as an actress, cosmetologist and real estate agent, wrapped up her testimony before Judge Don Stephens called it a day.
Hayes, the mother of two daughters – a toddler and an adult in her 20s – is accused of working in concert with Grant Hayes to murder and dismember Laura Jean Ackerson, a 27-year-old graphic artist from Kinston.
Ackerson, the mother of Grant Hayes’ sons, was killed in July 2011. Her remains were found in a Texas creek yards away from the home of Amanda Hayes’ sister 11 days after Ackerson’s friends last saw her alive.
Prosecutors contend that Ackerson was killed during a bitter custody battle with the father of her children, and that her body was dismembered in the Wake County apartment where the Hayeses lived.
Amanda Hayes testified in her defense Tuesday and Wednesday, adamantly insisting that she did not kill Ackerson nor participate in the dismemberment. Amanda Hayes said she did not know that Ackerson was dead, with her body parts in coolers and ice bags, until she was at the home of her sister in Texas.
Hayes said Grant Hayes, her husband of almost a year and the father of her toddler daughter Lilly, was a manipulative and threatening spouse who led her to believe her family would be harmed if she did not help him dispose of the body they had hauled cross country in July 2011.
Grant Hayes was convicted in September of murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole. He has appealed the verdict.
At his trial, Grant Hayes acknowledged through his attorneys that he had helped with the attempted coverup of Ackerson’s death.
But his defense team pointed the finger at Amanda Hayes and used the words of her sister to try to bolster their claims.
Amanda Hayes told her sister, according to testimony, that Ackerson was dead and she had hurt her.
But from the witness stand this week, Amanda Hayes explained that she was under duress when she arrived at her sister’s, not only from her fears of her husband but also because she had given birth to their daughter weeks earlier and was recovering still from Cesarean-section surgery.
Amanda Hayes said she had hoped to escape from her husband after learning that Ackerson had died in their apartment and that her body was in the U-Haul they had pulled from Raleigh to Texas with a piece of furniture she hoped to leave with her sister.
The Hayeses were in dire financial straits, and she worried that her husband would try to sell one of the last objects of value she had.
Amanda Hayes met Grant Hayes in the Virgin Islands. He was a musician, and she lived there with her daughter and ran an arts supply store.
He followed Amanda Hayes to the United States, first living with her in New York and then moving her to Raleigh with him so they could be closer to his sons.
Prosecutors, who are expected to call a witness after the defense rests, have argued that she participated in the crime that left two boys motherless.
‘Sorry for Laura’
Amanda Hayes testified that she sympathized with Ackerson.
“I honestly was feeling sorry for Laura, because it appeared to me that she didn’t really have a support system,” Amanda Hayes told jurors, adding that she had tried to persuade her husband to abandon the custody fight with Ackerson. The toll was lending emotional and financial stress to their relationship.
On July 13, 2011, Ackerson traveled to Raleigh from Kinston to pick up her sons, according to the testimony of her friends.
Amanda Hayes said Grant Hayes and Ackerson argued in their apartment. Amanda Hayes said she, too, was upset during that visit.
Not only was she troubled that her husband had talked about settling a custody fight for $25,000 – money they no longer had, she said she was upset that Ackerson had wanted to hold her 1-month-old daughter.
Amanda Hayes said her refusal to let Ackerson hold Lilly set off the Kinston woman and that she followed Amanda Hayes around the apartment until she tripped over a rug and fell into Amanda Hayes.
“Grant saw the whole thing, and he came to her, and he just grabbed her to pull her back,” Amanda Hayes testified.
What happened next, Amanda Hayes said, was a mystery to her until she got to Texas.
The defense team announced its plans to call one more witness before resting its case.
If weather permits, closing arguments could happen this week.
Source: Ann Blythe, News Observer / Photo: Travis Long, News Observer