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Raleigh, N.C. — Jury selection began Monday in the trial of a Raleigh man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and the mother of two of his children.
Grant Ruffin Hayes, 34, faces a first-degree murder charge in the July 2011 death of Laura Jean Ackerson, 27, whose dismembered body was found in a creek in Richmond, Texas – about 60 miles south of Houston.
Authorities have not publicly spoken of a motive, but in search warrants, investigators say Grant Hayes and Ackerson were in a “contentious child custody case” involving their two sons and that he and his wife, Amanda Perry Hayes, invited Ackerson to their home on July 13, 2011.
Prosecutors claim the couple killed Ackerson, cut up her body and carried it in several coolers to Texas and dumped the remains in a creek about 100 yards from the home of Amanda Hayes’ sister.
Ackerson’s remains were discovered July 24, 2011.
How Ackerson died is unclear. An autopsy report said the cause of death was “undetermined homicidal violence.”
Amanda Hayes, 41, is also charged with first-degree murder in the crime and is expected to go to trial in January.
The couple was initially set to be prosecuted together, but in April, Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ordered separate trials after he found their defenses would potentially conflict with each other and could infringe upon their right to a fair trial.
Amanda Hayes’ attorneys filed several motions claiming that she participated in Ackerson’s death while under duress, feared for her life and that Grant Hayes, while in jail, threatened to kill her.
It’s unclear if she will testify, if she were to be called by the state. Her name was not among a list of more than 100 potential witnesses whom the state could call during the trial, which is expected to last up to a month.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Grant Hayes faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
His defense attorneys, however, have alleged in their own court documents that Amanda Hayes confessed to her sister that she shoved Ackerson and “hurt her bad.”
Ackerson was a co-owner of GoFish Graphic Design, a marketing agency in Kinston, and was the mother of two of Grant Hayes’ children, who are now 4 and 5 years old.
Grant Hayes, a musician who performed for years in the Triangle under the name Grant Haze, had been awarded custody of the boys, but each party claimed the other was an unfit parent.
He and Amanda Hayes married in 2010, and she had given birth to their daughter in the months prior to Ackerson’s death.
Friends of Grant Hayes say they knew of the custody battle but never thought it could lead to accusations of murder.
“Grant was a soft-spoken, gentle guy,” said Michael Medus, a longtime friend and former roommate who traveled from Hawaii to support his friend. “In 10 years of knowing Grant, I never heard him raise his voice, never heard him yell, never heard him upset.”