Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Session September 16, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Washington County No. 28343 Jon Kerry Blackwood, Senior Judge.
Hershell D. Koger, Pulaski, Tennessee (on appeal); Kathleen Morris, Nashville, Tennessee (on appeal); and Howard Hawk Willis, pro se (at trial), for the appellant, Howard Hawk Willis.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; James E. Gaylord, Assistant Attorney General; Anthony Clark, District Attorney General; and Dennis Brooks, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Roger A. Page, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr. and Norma McGee Ogle, JJ., joined.
ROGER A. PAGE, JUDGE.
Appellant was convicted of multiple counts of first degree murder for the October 2002 deaths of Adam Chrismer and Adam's wife, Samantha. Appellant was indicted on premeditated first degree murder of Adam, premeditated first degree murder of Samantha, felony murder of Samantha in the perpetration of a kidnapping, felony murder of Adam in the perpetration of first degree murder, two counts of abuse of the corpse of each victim, and one count of abuse of the corpse of Sam Thomas, appellant's step-father. The State dismissed the charge of felony murder of Adam. The trial court ordered separate trials for the murder counts and the abuse of a corpse counts.
After multiple changes in counsel that resulted in long delays in the proceedings, the trial court found that appellant both implicitly waived and forfeited his right to be represented by counsel. The trial court ordered that appellant proceed pro se at trial and appointed advisory counsel. On interlocutory appeal, this court affirmed the trial court's order. See State v. Willis, 301 S.W.3d 644, 645 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2009). On remand, the trial judge, Judge Lynn W. Brown, recused himself from the case, and Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood was designated as the trial judge. The trial was held in June 2010.
The State's Proof
Patty Leming, Samantha's mother, testified that Samantha was born on April 21, 1986, and was sixteen years old when she was killed. Ms. Leming said that at some point, Samantha began living with Kelly Willis, who was one of Samantha's friends and appellant's daughter. Ms. Leming assumed that appellant was also living with them. Samantha visited Ms. Leming on a weekly basis. Ms. Leming said she only saw appellant if he brought Samantha to visit.
Ms. Leming testified that she last saw appellant on October 4, 2002. On that date, Ms. Leming, her boyfriend, and Samantha went to a Pizza Hut located on the border of Chattanooga and Georgia. Ms. Leming said she drank three glasses of beer but was not intoxicated. She also said that before their pizza arrived, Adam entered the restaurant and appeared tired. Adam slumped over on the table and told Samantha, "Howard said, let's go." Ms. Leming assumed that appellant had brought Adam and that appellant, Kelly, and Adam had been to the dog pound to retrieve Samantha's dog.
Ms. Leming said she saw a vehicle that appeared to be a red Jeep in the parking lot. While she was not certain, she believed the Jeep belonged to appellant. She also saw someone in the vehicle who looked like appellant. Ms. Leming stated that the vehicle was parked farther back in the parking lot, that it was "dusky dark" outside, and that the headlights of the vehicle were shining in the window. She saw the vehicle at the same time that Adam entered the Pizza Hut. Adam did not stay long. Samantha asked him where her dog was, and Adam told her that they did not retrieve it. Ms. Leming said Samantha "sort of flew off the handle and called [appellant's] daughter a b." The victims then left with appellant, and Ms. Leming did not see the vehicle after they left.
Ms. Leming testified that she called Samantha's cellular telephone on October 5 but did not reach her. She said she had not had any prior difficulties contacting Samantha using that number. Ms. Leming continued to attempt to reach Samantha but was unsuccessful.
On cross-examination, Ms. Leming denied informing agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) that the victims left in a blue Jeep. She stated that from September 27 through October 4, 2002, the victims were living in Rossville, Georgia, with appellant and Kelly.
On redirect examination, Ms. Leming testified that following Samantha's death, she visited the trailer on Mohawk Drive in Rossville, Georgia, where the victims had recently moved. Ms. Leming said that the victims and appellant had rented the trailer and that the victims had lived there for approximately one week prior to their deaths.
Teresa Chrismer, Adam's mother, testified that Adam was born on August 26, 1985, and was seventeen years old when he died. Adam moved out of Teresa's home when he turned seventeen. Teresa met appellant through the victims in 2002 when he brought the victims to her home to visit. Teresa said appellant came to her home a few times. She did not like him, and they argued.
Teresa testified that she last saw Adam at his great-grandmother's house but that she could not recall the date. Teresa said Adam had found a job and was looking forward to his life with Samantha. Teresa recalled that the victims were moving into a trailer on Mohawk Drive. Teresa stated that she last spoke to Adam on October 4, 2002. He called her and was upset and crying. Teresa told him to come home, and he agreed to do so.
Teresa stated that after speaking to Adam on October 4, she tried to call him but could not reach him. On October 7 or 8, Teresa received a call from a detective in Bradley County who wanted to speak to Adam. Teresa said she became "frantic" after the call. She believed that something bad had happened to Adam because she had not heard from him.
Teresa testified that Adam had previously given her a number to use to reach him and told her that it was a "secret" number. Teresa called the number several times and left a message that it was important that he call her. On October 11, appellant called Teresa from that same number and asked her what she wanted. Teresa told appellant that she wanted to talk to Adam and asked where he was. Appellant said he had not seen the victims since they were setting up their trailer on Mohawk Drive. Teresa stated that she tried to keep appellant on the telephone for as long as she could while her husband called the police. She said she remained on the telephone with appellant for twenty to twenty-five minutes. Teresa could hear two women talking in the background but could not determine what they were saying. Appellant was trying to get them to stop talking. Teresa stated that appellant was "as cool as a cucumber" during the conversation.
Luther Earl Whitson testified that on October 11, 2002, he went fishing at Boone Lake in Washington County, Tennessee. He went to Winged Deer Park at the boat ramp to pick up a friend. He "threw down the trawl motor" and was preparing to fish when he saw a human head floating in the water approximately twenty yards from the bank. He called 9-1-1.
Edward Brownlow Baker testified that on October 12, 2002, while fishing in a tournament on Boone Lake, he saw a human hand floating in the water. He caught the hand in a fishing net and brought it to a bridge where he called 9-1-1 and met officers.
Jerry Taylor, a bus driver for the sheriff's office, testified that on October 12, 2002, he had taken a crew of inmates to clean a cemetery. Mr. Taylor said he received a call from his sergeant who instructed him to go to DeVault Bridge on Bristol Highway to meet with investigators. When he arrived, he was instructed to take his crew and walk the bank of the lake to search for body parts. After searching for fifteen to twenty minutes, they found a human hand in the water.
Isaac Nichols testified that in October 2002, he learned that a human head and hand were discovered in Boone Lake. He said that during that month, he, his nephew, and his daughter went fishing at the lake where they found the top of a skull behind a boulder. He called 9-1-1 and located the skull for officers.
Wilma Clay testified that she lived in Johnson City next door to Betty Willis, appellant's mother. Mrs. Clay saw appellant, the victims, and appellant's daughter at the home beginning in April 2002 and on and off throughout the summer until September 2002. Mrs. Clay last saw the victims at the home in September 2002.
Mrs. Clay stated that during the early morning of October 5 or 6, she saw appellant standing outside Betty Willis's vehicle, a red Jeep, with his arm resting on the door smoking a cigarette. The red Jeep was parked on the side of the driveway and was filled with personal belongings. The appellant stood there for a few minutes, threw down his cigarette, picked up a black garbage bag from the back of the Jeep, and threw it on the ground. Mrs. Clay said she felt uncomfortable, so she reentered her home.
Mrs. Clay testified that later that day, when it was daylight, she went outside to retrieve her newspaper. She saw that the garage light at Betty's house was on and that the garage door was down. Mrs. Clay had not seen the garage light on previously.
On cross-examination, Mrs. Clay testified that she saw appellant on Saturday, October 5, 2002, at 5:30 a.m. She did not see any vehicles other than the red Jeep. Mrs. Clay said she did not see a blue Jeep that day and did not recall the last time that she had seen the blue Jeep. She acknowledged that neither she nor her neighbors got along with Betty.
James Robert Miller III, an attorney, testified that on September 27, 2002, he and his secretary went to the home of Betty Willis on Brentwood Drive on a routine business matter. When Mr. Miller parked in the driveway, he saw Betty standing outside in the yard. He also saw Adam exit the house through the front door and walk around the yard.
Mr. Miller stated that he entered the house and saw that the kitchen, bathroom, and living room were covered in debris. The State showed Mr. Miller a photograph of the house, and Mr. Miller said that the hardwood floor depicted in the photograph from the front of the house going toward the kitchen was not uncovered. Rather, he said that the floor was carpeted. Mr. Miller stated that when he left the house, the victims were playing video games on a television that appeared to be new.
Mr. Miller testified that at one point he went into the backyard where he saw Samantha talking on her cellular telephone. Samantha handed the telephone to appellant, who spoke into it and then handed it back to her. Samantha told Mr. Miller that she had come from Georgia to help clean the house.
On cross-examination, Mr. Miller testified that he was at the house for approximately forty-five minutes. He saw Samantha standing beside a blue Jeep and said that she had sandy or light brown hair. Samantha told him that she had met appellant at a Hardees' restaurant one or two weeks before.
Catherine Campbell testified that in October 2002, she was a manager of 24 Hour Self Storage Facility in Johnson City, Tennessee. Her office was located two blocks away from the storage units. The company rented the units remotely by telephone.
Ms. Campbell explained that a person who wanted to rent a storage unit was required to use the lobby telephone at the storage facility. The telephone connected to the main office. Ms. Campbell or one of the employees at the main office completed contracts using the information that the person provided over the telephone. The person also completed the same contract while speaking to the employee and was required to make a payment at that time. If the person paid using cash or a check, he or she was instructed to place the payment in a lockbox at the site along with the contract. Once payment was rendered, the person was provided with a temporary gate code until the person's permanent code could be entered into the system.
Ms. Campbell testified that on October 10, 2002, she rented Unit Number X47 during the mid-afternoon. Ms. Campbell spoke to a man over the telephone for a few minutes. She said the man sounded as if he were middle-aged or older. The man told Ms. Campbell that a woman wanted to rent a storage unit and that the unit would be in the woman's name. Ms. Campbell told the man that she would need to speak to the woman directly. The man then handed the telephone to a woman who identified herself as Betty Willis. Betty confirmed that she wished to rent a unit, and Ms. Campbell talked her through the paperwork and provided her with a temporary gate code. Betty paid with a check.
Ms. Campbell stated that later that evening, she retrieved the paperwork at the storage facility. The paperwork listed the name "Betty H. Willis" and listed the address as 104 Brentwood Drive, Johnson City, Tennessee. The check was made in the amount of $55.00. After Ms. Campbell deposited the check in the bank, it was returned due to insufficient funds. On cross-examination, Ms. Campbell testified that the facility did not have video surveillance and did not store information regarding who entered the facility.
Dr. Larry Miller, a professor and forensic document examiner for the Department of Criminal Justice at East Tennessee State University, was accepted by the trial court as an expert in handwriting analysis. Dr. Miller testified that in November 2003, Investigator Todd Hull with the Washington County Sheriff's Office requested that he examine documents that purportedly bore the handwriting of Emma Elizabeth Hawk, also known as Betty Willis. Dr. Miller was asked to compare the handwriting on the documents with Betty's known handwriting.
Dr. Miller testified that he examined a storage rental agreement form that was completed by a person by the name of Betty H. Willis. He concluded that the signature and other handwriting on the document were that of Betty. Dr. Miller also examined a check dated October 10, 2002, payable to 24 Hour Storage and determined that the writing, numerical formations, and signature were made by Betty.
Sergeant Kenneth Phillips testified that in October 2002, he was the Director of the Drug Task Force, which included Washington, Carter, Johnson, and Unicoi counties. On Friday, October 11, Major Link Higgins requested his assistance regarding a human skull found at Boone Lake. Sergeant Phillips stated that on the afternoon of Monday, October 14, Major Higgins requested that he investigate a lead regarding the identity of the skull, which involved two missing juveniles from the Chattanooga or Bradley County area.
Sergeant Phillips stated that he and an investigator from Bradley County went to the Washington County Detention Center and listened to tape recordings of telephone calls that appellant had made at the jail. Sergeant Phillips had listened to one or one and one-half of the tapes when he received a call from Investigator Hull who stated that it appeared that the lead regarding the missing juveniles was probably the most feasible lead. After meeting with Investigator Hull, Sergeant Phillips called Major Higgins and informed him of the information that he had received and said that they needed to act that night. They called in various law enforcement agencies, and Sergeant Phillips and Agent Tom Smith began drafting search warrants. One search warrant was for Betty Willis's home on Brentwood Drive, and the second search warrant was for the home of Marie Holmes, Betty's sister. Sergeant Phillips recalled that the backyards of the two homes were adjacent.
Sergeant Phillips testified that during one of the telephone calls that appellant made to Betty, she mentioned storage, and appellant told her to "shut up." As a result, Sergeant Phillips knew that they needed to find a storage building or unit. On October 15, officers learned that appellant and Betty rented a storage unit at a storage facility located at Buffalo Street. Sergeant Phillips said he had access to the storage facility because the sheriff's office rented a unit there. Sergeant Phillips and other officers walked around the facility "killing some time" while waiting for other investigators to identify the unit.
Sergeant Phillips stated that as he was walking around the facility, he came upon the unit for which he believed they had been searching. He believed he smelled rotting flesh from the unit. Sergeant Phillips said that at that time, he had been an officer for seventeen or eighteen years and had worked a number of murder scenes involving dead bodies in various stages of decomposition. One investigator with the Washington County Sheriff's Office and two or three officers from Bradley County were with Sergeant Phillips. These officers did not smell anything until they put their noses to the crack of the door of the unit. Sergeant Phillips observed eight to ten maggots coming out from under the door. He said that based upon his experience, he believed decomposing bodies were likely in the storage unit.
Sergeant Phillips testified that around the time that he discovered the unit, Investigator Hull called him and said that he had the number of the storage unit rented to the Willises. Sergeant Phillips told Investigator Hull that he believed that he had located the unit and confirmed that the unit number was X47. Sergeant Phillips stated that he and the other officers secured the unit and reported what they believed that they had found. Two patrol cars remained there all night to secure the scene. Sergeant Phillips said that there was a lock on the unit and that it was not opened while he was there.
Sergeant Phillips recalled that on Tuesday, October 15, 2002, he met with Wilda Willis, appellant's ex-wife, and that they went to the jail where Wilda met with appellant as officers recorded the meeting. Sergeant Phillips said that he heard the conversation while it was being recorded and believed that a transmitter was in the trash can.
Sergeant Phillips stated that Wilda and appellant met again the following night. Sergeant Phillips also stated that the second meeting was a "contact visit, " or a visit where appellant and Wilda were in the same room, that was set up by either Major Higgins or the sheriff through the jail superintendent. Sergeant Phillips believed that a transmitter was again placed in the trash can, and he listened to the conversation. At one point, Sergeant Phillips heard appellant tell Wilda, "'I blew their brains out.'" Sergeant Phillips terminated the meeting shortly thereafter. He and an agent entered the room, and Sergeant Phillips began reading appellant his rights. Before Sergeant Phillips could complete the reading of the rights, appellant stopped him and requested counsel. The interview was then terminated.
Sergeant Phillips testified that in accordance with his usual policy, he informed the jailers that they should watch appellant because he had admitted to two murders. Sergeant Phillips explained that he wanted to ensure that appellant did not injure himself and said that some officers refer to this as "suicide watch." He further explained that when an inmate is on suicide watch, the jailers take away his items of clothing so that the inmate cannot use them to hang himself. The inmate is provided with a paper gown. Sergeant Phillips said he was told that jailers implemented similar procedures with appellant. He did not see appellant for a few weeks after appellant's admission.
On cross-examination, Sergeant Phillips testified that he also learned of the existence of the storage unit while monitoring a conversation between Wilda and Betty. He did not listen to all of the tape recordings of telephone conversations between appellant and Betty. Sergeant Phillips said that he never saw the rental contract for the storage unit and acknowledged, when shown the contract, that appellant's name was not on the contract.
Sergeant Phillips was aware that appellant had requested an attorney on October 14 on an unrelated charge. He also heard a recorded telephone conversation between appellant and Betty during which they discussed retaining an attorney to represent appellant on charges that he had pending in New York.
Special Agent Rainer Drolshagen of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") testified that in October 2002, he was stationed in Johnson City, Tennessee. Due to his experience working with the Washington County Sheriff's Office and his forensic collection background, Special Agent Drolshagen was called to assist in executing a search warrant at Betty's home.
Special Agent Drolshagen testified that a red Jeep was parked behind the house. He observed that the vehicle was very clean, which surprised him because the house was not clean. The carpet inside the vehicle was damp, and he noticed a foul odor in the vehicle. He believed the vehicle needed to be processed for bodily fluids and trace evidence.
Special Agent Drolshagen recalled that he entered the residence through the front door and walked into the living room. He observed beige carpet in the living room and a large spot on the living room floor where the carpet had been bleached. Special Agent Drolshagen said the den located at the rear of the house was in disarray. He saw white stains on the carpet that appeared to be paint and other materials on the carpet, including glass.
Special Agent Drolshagen stated that someone had removed a fair amount of carpet from the dining room and hallway area and that only a select portion of the carpet in the room was removed. He further stated that the carpet was cut away "haphazardly" and that the cuts on the carpet were not straight. Special Agent Drolshagen said that the house was not in a good condition and that there was a foul odor throughout the house. He observed flies and larvae in the house. He explained that they were searching for a body that had been moved. He further explained that when carpet had been cut in such a way, it was an indicator that the carpet may have been removed to conceal a crime or was used during the course of the crime.
Special Agent Drolshagen testified that he also assisted in searching the storage facility. He collected larvae or maggots at the front stoop. When he entered the storage facility, he observed two red or orange gas cans with a mixture of fuel in them. He also observed a blue tarpaulin and tools, including a hammer, a hatchet, and a pair of scissors coming out from underneath the tarp. Two beige plastic containers with light-colored lids were underneath the tarp. A bag containing cans of air freshener was on top of the containers. A similar air freshener container had been previously found at Betty's home. A yellow rope was used to tie down one of the containers. A stain was on the side of one of the containers where it appeared that fluid had come out and seeped down onto the floor. Larvae and pupae were on the floor near the containers. A male body was in the container that was tied with a yellow rope, and a female body was in the other container.
Special Agent Drolshagen testified that while collecting various samples of larvae and pupae, he conferred with Dr. Erin Watson, an entomologist. Special Agent Drolshagen noted the specimens could indicate the time of death based upon their life cycles. Dr. Watson informed Special Agent Drolshagen that her analysis also would require temperature readings because the temperature was relevant to the development of larvae. Dr. Watson requested that he take a four-day sample of the temperature from the storage unit. Special Agent Drolshagen purchased a scientific thermometer and obtained the high and low temperatures from the unit on January 9-12, 2003. He also checked the high and low temperatures for the majority of October 2002.
Special Agent Drolshagen testified that several layers of material were on top of the female victim. Her body was in a state of decomposition. Her head was tucked, and her hands were bound behind her body. A gag was in her mouth.
Special Agent Drolshagen stated that he recovered larvae and pupae samples from the container with the female victim. He observed and collected only pupae samples from the container with the male victim. He collected both live and dead samples. The dead samples were placed in alcohol to preserve them at their actual state when they were recovered. To store the live samples, Special Agent Drolshagen purchased vermiculite and ground beef, placed them in a Styrofoam container, and punched holes in the top of the container. He placed the live samples in the container to allow them to continue to feed and remain alive for Dr. Watson's analysis.
Dr. Vince Pinyard, the county medical examiner for Washington and Unicoi Counties, testified that he received a call on a Friday night or early Saturday morning in October 2002 regarding the discovery of body parts in Boone Lake. Early that next morning, Dr. Pinyard went to the scene where he and deputies began searching for other body parts. The head had been taken to the forensic pathology laboratory by the time that he arrived. A hand was found while he was at the scene.
Dr. Pinyard testified that he received a call from investigators who stated that they had information that other body parts may be in a storage facility in Johnson City. Larvae or maggots were crawling around the unit, and it was determined that the specimens would not be present if organic material had not been in the facility to keep them alive. Dr. Pinyard went to the storage unit. He stated that before the door was opened, he observed larvae or maggots crawling around and smelled an odor coming from inside the storage unit. Investigators determined that they needed to request assistance from the TBI and sealed off and guarded the unit until TBI agents arrived the following day.
Dr. Pinyard said that after TBI agents collected evidence, he and Dr. Mona Stephens examined the contents of the containers in the storage unit. They decided to replace the lids of the containers to avoid disturbing the evidence until they transported them back to the forensic laboratory to process them correctly. Dr. Pinyard and two emergency medical technicians loaded the containers into the back of an ambulance. Because the forensic laboratory did not have radiology or x-ray equipment available, they transported the containers to the local hospital to be weighed and x-rayed. They then transported the containers to the forensic pathology department. Dr. Pinyard described the containers as heavy, bulky, and awkward to handle. He did not believe that he could have moved them by himself without spilling the contents.
Dr. Mona Gretal Case Harlan Stephens, a forensic pathologist, was accepted by the trial court as an expert in forensic pathology. She performed the autopsies on both victims. Dr. Stephens testified that she first became involved in the case when she was notified that a human head had been found in the area of Winged Deer Park. She was notified at night and went to the boat ramp where she observed a human head.
Dr. Stephens testified that Adam Chrismer was seventeen years old when he died of a close-range gunshot wound to the head. His dismembered head and neck, his hands, and additional pieces of his skull were recovered from a lake at separate times. Dr. Stephens said the majority of Adam's decomposing body was recovered in a storage bin in a storage unit where Samantha's body was also found. Adam was identified based upon DNA comparison with his mother, fingerprint comparison, and mitochondrial DNA comparisons of his hands, head, and ribs. Dr. Stephens determined that Adam's manner of death was homicide and said that the pupae present in his storage bin suggested that he died before Samantha.
Dr. Stephens stated that a bullet entered in an area beneath Adam's chin. The bullet traveled through the skin, the pharynx, and the base of the skull. Dr. Stephens explained that the tissue above the base of the skull was largely lost and disrupted, so she was not able to show the path of the bullet beyond the disrupted base of the skull. The bullet was not recovered. Dr. Stephens observed stippling or powder tattooing 0.7 inches from the entry wound. She explained that stippling generally does not embed in the skin if the gun is fired more than two feet from the surface of the skin. As a result, Dr. Stephens characterized the wound as a near gunshot wound.
Dr. Stephens testified that Adam's head and hands were dismembered using a chainsaw. She determined that the separate piece of skull that was found in the lake matched some of the missing portion of Adam's skull. She stated that the separate piece of skull showed evidence of flat sides from the chainsaw activity and separations along the suture lines.
Dr. Stephens said that the container in which Adam had been placed had a yellow rope around it. Adam was wearing shorts and boxer-style undershorts. A black jacket also was in the container. A comforter with a blue background and a sunflower design on one side, a marble blue lining, and a synthetic polyester-type material as the filling was wrapped around Adam's body. A pink fleeced blanket with nylon ends or trim was wrapped around the comforter. The material and Adam's body were tied around the middle with a black nylon rope.
Dr. Stephens testified that the evidence was consistent with the materials' being wrapped around Adam's body before he was dismembered with the chainsaw. When Dr. Stephens examined Adam's head, she saw material in part of the gash on the right side of the head made by the chainsaw. Dr. Stephens said the material appeared to be some sort of polyester-type fabric batting used for quilting or found in the inside of a jacket or comforter. She also said the fabric was similar to the fabric found in the container. Dr. Stephens observed chainsaw markings on the black jacket.
Dr. Stephens stated that Adam's head had damage to the right side going down in an angled pattern that was in the same plane as the chainsaw marks to the front of his upper chest. Adam had a chainsaw mark at the inferior margin of his neck area that was similar to the chainsaw mark on the left side of the torso. The chainsaw marks caused damage to the skin that looked like serrations in some areas and small parallel lines in other areas.
Dr. Stephens said Adam's left leg had been sawed through and folded back, but the soft tissues were still connected. The right femur had a series of saw marks, and the cut farthest from the foot went through the entire bone tissue. The legs were still attached by the skin, but the bones had been sawed through completely.
Dr. Stephens testified that if Adam had been wrapped in multiple layers when dismembered, it would have helped contain any bleeding or tissue fragmentation. She also testified that the chainsaw marks appeared to have been made post-mortem. She explained that as a result, bleeding would not have been excessive because there would have been no arterial spurting. Dr. Stephens noted bruising and darkening around the wound underneath the chin and said that tissues were damaged through the base of the skull. She explained that as a result, Adam was alive when he was shot and was deceased when he was dismembered.
Dr. Stephens testified that she observed maggots and brown pupae cases on the surfaces of the black jacket and the blanket. She collected them and provided them to Special Agent Drolshagen. Dr. Stephens did not find any of these specimen in the container where Samantha was found.
Dr. Stephens testified that Samantha was sixteen years old when she died from a gunshot wound to the head and a second "loose contact" gunshot wound. Dr. Stephens concluded that the manner of death was homicide. Samantha's nude decomposing body was found in a rental storage facility in a large plastic bin with her hands bound behind her back. Dr. Stephens stated that Samantha's ankles showed evidence of ligatures that had been in place while her blood was circulating.
Dr. Stephens said that the first gunshot wound was over the big knot on the back of the skull that forms the occipital protuberance. She also said that the wound was large and that she observed a great amount of soot around the wound. The bullet traveled downward and to the right toward the neck and upper shoulder area. A bullet fragment traveled through the scalp about where the hairline is located in the back of the neck. The other fragments traveled down farther into the neck where Dr. Stephens recovered them.
Dr. Stephens testified that the second gunshot wound was not as easily seen on the outside of the scalp. She said the bullet traveled farther up on the head in the back and farther to the left. The bullet traveled through the scalp and what would have been the brain. The brain was no longer present due to maggot activity. The bullet struck the base of the skull and caused an outward fracture. Dr. Stephens was unable to locate the bullet.
Dr. Stephens stated that two small rugs were found in the same container where Samantha's body was found. A pillowcase with a floral, yellow, and tan design was also found in the container. After Dr. Stephens examined the contents of the container, she was asked to go to Brentwood Drive on October 23, 2002. A pillowcase with the same design was found in a cabinet in the bathroom.
Dr. Stephens testified that she observed larvae or maggots of various sizes in the container with Samantha but did not observe any pupae. Dr. Stephens explained that the round pupae casings she found in the container with Adam represented the end stage before the specimen emerges as a fly. She further explained that the lack of pupae in the container with Samantha suggested that Adam died before Samantha.
Dr. Stephens said there was a black zip-tie around each of Samantha's wrists. Samantha's wrists were tied together by another zip-tie. Her ankles also had zip ties around them. Dr. Stephens stated that the coloration in Samantha's hands suggested that the zip-ties were around her wrists when she was still alive. Dr. Stephens found bruising on the front of Samantha's right leg, the back and outside of her right leg, the front of her chest, the inside of her right breast, and her right shoulder. Samantha had bruising on the inside of both of her feet that was consistent with the positioning of the zip-ties. There was a knotted cloth gag in Samantha's mouth, and Samantha had teeth missing that Dr. Stephens found in the container.
On cross-examination, Dr. Stephens testified that when she went to the storage unit, she saw that one of the containers was leaking "purge fluid" resulting in a large spot on the floor. She found a paper towel in the purge fluid and found a piece of glass in the paper towel. She also collected numerous fly samples. She preserved some of the samples in alcohol and some in a nutrient container that was provided by an FBI agent.
Dr. Stephens said that while she was at the Brentwood Drive address, a piece of material that matched the lining of the jacket that was in the storage container with Adam was found within the door frame in the garage. Dr. Stephens stated that the jacket was an XXL and likely would have been big on Adam. She recalled that so many items were piled up in the front bedroom of the Brentwood Drive address that it was difficult to walk into the room. The bed was turned over, and the room was not livable. The rest of the house was in disarray, and paint was splashed on the walls and the doors.
Dr. Stephens testified that she searched in the home for materials similar to those found in the containers. She also searched for obvious blood or tissue staining and bullet fragments in the home but did not find any.
Dr. Stephens was unable to determine what the material found in the skull was but said that the material was consistent with polyester batting. She noted that polyester batting was in the jacket and the comforter. She did not send the material to be tested and did not examine the chainsaw that was recovered.
Dr. Stephens testified that Samantha's hair was medium brown or red. Dr. Stephens explained that postmortem changes could have made the hair appear a bit redder and that her hair was in the purge fluid. Dr. Stephens stated that if Samantha's hair was blonde, it was very dark blonde.
Dr. Mark Koponen testified that in 2002, he was a deputy chief medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation ("GBI"). The trial court accepted Dr. Koponen as an expert in forensic pathology. Dr. Koponen said a GBI agent asked him to perform a second examination of Samantha. He understood that the purpose of the second examination was to facilitate the transfer of information.
Dr. Koponen testified that during an x-ray examination, he found a bullet within Samantha's chest. He understood that the bullet was not found during the first autopsy because that office did not have x-ray capabilities. Dr. Koponen said three explanations for the bullet existed. The first explanation was that Samantha was shot in the chest. Dr. Koponen was not able to determine whether Samantha had a gunshot wound to the chest due to cuts made during the first autopsy. Dr. Koponen stated that the second explanation was that Samantha was shot in the head and that the bullet traveled down the hole where the spinal cord passes. The third explanation was that the bullet fell down to the chest when the body was manipulated due to extensive decomposition.
Dr. Koponen testified that he did not have access to the original autopsy performed by Dr. Stephens when he performed the second autopsy. He had since reviewed the original autopsy. He said that the likely explanation for the bullet was that it was originally within the cranial vault and fell down the spinal column as the body decomposed.
Captain Debbie Pattillo of the Johnson City Police Department testified that she participated in the execution of some of the search warrants at the Brentwood Drive address. She also attended the autopsy of Samantha's body. Captain Pattillo said that while at the autopsy, she saw a pillowcase that had been taken from the container and recognized it as matching a pillowcase that she had seen at the residence. Captain Pattillo and Dr. Stephens later went to the residence and found the matching pillowcase inside a drawer. Captain Pattillo stated that she searched the entire drawer and did not find any other pillowcases that matched the one that she seized from the home.
Officer Bill Burtt with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office testified that in October 2002, he was the captain of the criminal investigative division. He said that on October 4, 2002, appellant was scheduled to come to his office for an interview but did not show up. Rather, appellant called Detective Shaunda Efaw and said that he was unable to meet. Officer Burtt and Detective Efaw interviewed appellant on October 8, 2002. During the interview, the subject of the victims arose, and appellant said that they possibly were in Georgia and that he had last seen them on October 4.
Officer Burtt testified that following the interview, they were interested in speaking to the victims. Detectives went to Georgia to attempt to locate them. They spoke to Adam's mother, Teresa, in an attempt to determine his location, but she had not seen him. Officer Burtt spoke to Teresa by telephone after October 8 but was unable to locate Adam through her information. Officer Burtt said the conversations with Teresa occurred following his interview with appellant but before appellant's arrest.
Detective Shaunda Efaw with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office testified that she requested that appellant meet with her on October 4, 2002, but that he did not show up. She then scheduled an interview with him for October 8. Detective Efaw said that during the interview, appellant told her that he had last seen the victims on Friday, October 4 when he went to north Georgia to retrieve some flyers.
Detective Efaw said that on October 10, she received a message that appellant wanted to speak to her. When she returned his call, appellant told her that he last saw the victims on Mohawk Road on the day that he went to Georgia to retrieve some flyers. Detective Efaw stated that this was essentially the same story that appellant had told her on October 8.
Detective Efaw testified that on January 3, 2003, the Bradley County Sheriff's Office was working with Wilda Willis, appellant's former wife, in searching for a chainsaw. Officers searched for the chainsaw off I-75 in Bradley County, while Detective Efaw remained in the vehicle with Wilda. During that time period, Wilda received a telephone call from appellant, which Detective Efaw recorded. Other officers located the chainsaw.
On cross-examination, Detective Efaw testified that on October 8, 2002, appellant told her that he did not keep up with dates with regard to when he last saw the victims and that he would need to ask Wilda. Detective Efaw said that on October 11, she was in Washington County searching for the victims and arrested appellant pursuant to a federal warrant. Detectives Keith Fretwell and Bill Coultree were with her, and she requested assistance from Washington County officers. At the time of appellant's arrest, officers looked through the house where appellant was arrested as well as the house on Brentwood Drive.
Detective Efaw testified that on the night of October 11, she requested that a Jeep be towed. She said that there were two Jeeps and that she could not recall which Jeep was towed. She acknowledged that she did not have a warrant to tow the Jeep but had it towed based on instructions from her supervisors in Bradley County. Detective Efaw did not know why the Jeep was towed and never saw the Jeep again. She was aware that forensic testing was conducted on a Jeep. She stated that if the blue Jeep was towed, it was likely because it was the last vehicle in which the victims were seen.
Detective Efaw stated that either she or Captain Burtt called Wilda to their office on October 14, 2002, and that they spoke to her at approximately 9:00 p.m. Wilda said she was going to Greeneville, Tennessee, the following day. Detective Efaw did not recall whether Captain Burtt told Wilda not to go to Greeneville and to go to Johnson City instead. Detective Efaw did not recall the exact conversation but said that it was discussed that Wilda would go to Johnson City and meet with officers from the Johnson City Police Department.
Detective Efaw testified that she gave a recorder to Wilda to record telephone conversations between her and appellant. Wilda brought completed tapes to Detective Efaw, who then gave Wilda blank tapes. Detective Efaw said Wilda may have also purchased blank tapes on her own. Detective Efaw recalled at least one recorded telephone conversation between appellant and Wilda regarding a chainsaw. Detective Efaw heard appellant make a statement regarding his source of knowledge about where or why the chainsaw was at the location where it was recovered by officers.
Sergeant William Coultry with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office testified that in January 2003, he and other officers were asked to retrieve a chainsaw that had been disposed of off Interstate 75 in the northbound lane at mile marker seventeen. Sergeant Coultry said Wilda directed officers to that location. The chainsaw was located over a guardrail and seventeen to twenty feet from the bank.
Lieutenant Elizabeth Pope testified that in January 2003, she was the senior lieutenant assigned to the crime scene investigation unit with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office. She responded to a scene at I-75 to assist in the recovery of the chainsaw and transported it to the detectives' office. She logged the chainsaw into evidence and later gave it to Lieutenant Barry Tharpe, who transported the chainsaw to the TBI crime laboratory in Nashville.
Lieutenant Pope stated that she also assisted in the execution of a search warrant at the Brentwood Drive address. She recovered a school identification card for Adam and a receipt from Wal-Mart in the garage.
Lieutenant Barry Tharpe with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office testified that the sheriff sent him to Johnson City, Tennessee; Cleveland, Tennessee; and Georgia to attempt to locate the victims. Lieutenant Tharpe was not present when the chainsaw was discovered, but he later took photographs of the material that was on the chainsaw. He said he was in the storage unit when the containers were discovered and opened. He saw a jacket in one of the containers with material similar to the material on the chainsaw. Lieutenant Tharpe transported the chainsaw to the TBI crime laboratory.
Wilda Willis Gadd, appellant's former wife, testified that they married in 1992 and divorced in July 2002. They continued to have contact following the divorce. She said that on October 4, 2002, appellant came to her house with two other people in Betty Willis's red Jeep. Wilda stated that appellant sometimes drove a blue Jeep. Appellant entered Wilda's home, but the other two did not. Wilda said that because it was late in the evening and she was in a hurry, she did not pay attention to the two people with appellant. She further said that a female appeared to be in the Jeep and that a young man was standing outside the vehicle. Wilda's home was located in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, approximately forty-five minutes from Bradley County. Appellant returned to Wilda's home on October 8.
Wilda testified that in October 2002, she learned that appellant was arrested in Washington County. She spoke to appellant by telephone in the week leading to his arrest. On October 10 or 11, either the evening before appellant's arrest or the evening of his arrest, appellant called her. He told her that Patty Leming had been calling him wanting to know where Samantha was and stating that no one had seen Samantha. Appellant asked Wilda what he was supposed to do about the calls. Wilda asked appellant where the victims were. Appellant said that he did not know and that the victims had left Johnson City earlier that morning.
Wilda stated that during the evening of Friday, October 11 or the morning of Saturday, October 12, either Betty Willis or Marie Holmes called her and informed her of appellant's arrest. They asked her to attend federal court in Jonesborough on Monday. They implied that appellant was arrested over whether the blue Jeep or the red Jeep had been at Wilda's home on October 4.
Wilda testified that she went to Washington County on October 15 after learning of appellant's arrest. Appellant had called Wilda from Marie Holmes's telephone and asked her to visit him at the jail. Appellant told Wilda that he had information for her.
Wilda stated that officers from Bradley County requested that she meet with officers with the Johnson City Police Department regarding Betty Willis and Marie Holmes. On October 15, Wilda approached officers with the Johnson City Police Department and was introduced to an officer with the Washington County Sheriff's Office. Wilda said officers initially requested that she talk to Betty and Marie while wearing a wire. Wilda stated that she agreed but also insisted on meeting with appellant. Officers provided Wilda with a recording device. She spoke to Betty and Marie on October 15 and met with appellant later that evening. Wilda maintained that she wore the wire of her own free will.
Wilda testified that she met with appellant at the jail, where they were separated by plexiglass. The plexiglass had holes to allow them to talk to each other. Wilda said that communication was difficult and that they had to speak up to hear each other. She further said appellant began providing her with information but then "backed off." Appellant asked her to return the following day with a tape recorder, a pad on which to write, and a pencil. Wilda told appellant that returning would be difficult. Appellant instructed her to hire a "fifty dollar attorney" and return to the jail with the attorney. Appellant further instructed her to persuade the attorney to present her as his paralegal so that she would be allowed in the room. Appellant told Wilda that he would then tell the attorney to leave the room so that appellant could talk to her.
Wilda stated that following her meeting with appellant, she told officers from the Washington County Sheriff's Office that she wanted to return and meet with appellant the next day. She met with appellant the following evening on October 16 in a private room. She brought a spiral notebook, pencils, and a small tape recorder, but she did not bring an attorney. She did not wear a wire during the meeting and knew that cameras were in the room. Wilda said her tape recorder did not record portions of the meeting because it was turned on and off during the course of the meeting. She explained that there were times when appellant wanted her to record what he was saying. Appellant then would turn off the recorder, and Wilda would turn it back on.
Wilda testified that appellant told her that he "blew [the victims'] brains out." Appellant stated that he cut Adam's head and hands off and threw them in a river. Appellant further stated that Samantha's body and the remaining portion of Adam's body were in a storage building. Wilda said appellant did not "point blank" provide a date on which he killed the victims. She stated that appellant discussed Sunday, October 6. She recalled that appellant showed no emotion when he discussed the killings. She said, "It didn't matter to him that they were dead at all." After the meeting, appellant continued to call Wilda several times a day.
The recording and a transcript of appellant's statements to Wilda on October 16, 2002, were entered into evidence. Appellant told Wilda, "I blew their brains out . . . . I just pulled the trigger right then and there on them." He stated that Samantha arrived at Betty's house on Saturday afternoon and was "acting real funny." Appellant said Adam arrived the following morning and "kept acting funny." Appellant and Adam began a discussion that resulted in an altercation. Appellant stated that while they were "scuffling around" in Betty's bedroom, he found a pistol and shot Adam with it. Appellant said that Samantha was beside Adam and that appellant then shot her. Appellant stated that he severed Adam's head and hands and threw them in the lake close to Devault Bridge. He then placed Samantha's body and the remaining portion of Adam's body in a storage shed. Appellant told Wilda that he was unaware of what information that Betty had and that to his knowledge, Betty was "totally innocent in the whole matter."
Wilda testified that appellant was transferred to New York on the last Tuesday in October and that she met with him on the evening before he left. They met at the Washington County Sheriff's Office, and she did not wear a wire. Wilda stated that appellant asked her whether the victims' bodies had been found. Appellant continued to tell her what he did to Adam and how he cut Adam's body.
Wilda said appellant began calling her in December asking her to visit him in New York on New Year's Day. He told her that he would inform her of the rest of the truth and that she would have the answers to all of her questions. Wilda stated that after appellant arrived in New York, he began varying his stories regarding what had happened to the victims. At one point, appellant told Wilda that Betty Willis had killed them. He later said Samantha's brothers, Daniel and Richard, killed them. Appellant also said the Mafia had killed them.
Wilda stated that on January 1, 2003, she went to New York to meet with appellant at a federal prison. They met in the visitor's room where prisoners meet with their families and friends. Wilda was not allowed to wear a recording device during the meeting.
Wilda testified that during the meeting, appellant insisted that someone else had killed the victims and that he needed her to do various things for him upon her return home. Appellant informed her that Betty Willis had thrown out the chainsaw and told her where to find it. Appellant instructed Wilda to drive on I-75 north toward Chattanooga, past the Ooltewah exit, and toward the gravel road where eighteen-wheelers park. Appellant told Wilda to pull her car up to the guardrail and walk until she could not see her car. He said she would find the chainsaw to the right in the ditch. Wilda stated that appellant instructed her to take gasoline and rags with her to clean off any fingerprints from the chainsaw. Appellant further instructed her to take the chainsaw and some other objects, break into the home of Daniel Foster, Samantha's brother, in the Hunter Green trailer park, steal some of his clothes, wrap the items up in the clothing, hide them under the trailer, and have someone call the police and report a tip that the items were located there. Wilda said appellant stated that he did not report the information that he claimed to have learned from Betty to law enforcement. Wilda did not indicate to appellant at that time that she was cooperating with law enforcement.
Wilda stated that she spoke to both Investigator Todd Hull and Detective Efaw while she was in New York. She met with them upon her return from New York. Officers then accompanied her to the location described by appellant and found the chainsaw. Appellant called Wilda before she arrived in Bradley County and told her to hurry up and locate the chainsaw. He called her while she was at the Bradley County Sheriff's Office. Appellant also called Wilda when officers found the chainsaw and told her that she should be at the location by that time. Wilda said appellant wanted to ensure that she did not take the chainsaw back to her house. Rather, he wanted her to clean it and hide it so that it would not be found until she gathered the remaining items. Wilda told appellant that she would follow his instructions. Bradley County officers provided Wilda with a device to record the telephone conversations.
Wilda testified that appellant called her throughout the day. He said he wanted her to search for items in Washington County and in Chattanooga near the Tennessee River. Wilda said that during the next few months, appellant called her at different times requesting that she locate various items. He sent her pictures and riddles. He also asked her to give Investigator Hull riddles and messages to assist in locating items faster. Wilda stated that at one point, appellant dictated a summary of the events that occurred in October 2002. She believed that appellant wanted her to type it and give it to the prosecutor and Bradley County officers so that they would know his side of the story.
Wilda said that when she met with appellant on October 16, 2002, appellant was not charged with the offenses. When she spoke to him in January 2003, appellant had been charged with murdering the victims.
On cross-examination, Wilda testified that during her marriage to appellant, Betty Willis was a constant source of trouble. Wilda said that Betty routinely threatened others' lives and that Wilda had to take out warrants against her.
Wilda recalled that on the morning of Saturday, October 12, 2002, appellant called her and requested that she attend a federal hearing in Greeneville, Tennessee, on Monday and provide testimony regarding appellant's driving a red Jeep and not a blue Jeep on October 4. On October 14, Detective Efaw called Wilda and visited her at her place of employment. Officers called her that evening and requested that she drive to Bradley County. Wilda and Wilda's friend, Joy Gadd, drove to Bradley County where Wilda met with Detective Efaw and Captain Burtt. Wilda said Captain Burtt instructed her to go to the Johnson City Police Department and speak to Debbie Barron before going to Greeneville. Wilda stated that Captain Burtt told her to speak to Ms. Barron about the information that Wilda might have regarding Betty Willis and Marie Holmes. Wilda did not speak to Ms. Barron and did not recall the name of the officer with whom she spoke. She met with officers from the Johnson City Police Department for forty-five minutes to one hour. She was then directed to the Washington County Sheriff's Office where she met with Lincoln Higgins and Kenneth Phillips.
Wilda denied that Sergeant Phillips brought up the idea of her meeting with appellant while wearing a wire. Rather, she said she insisted on meeting with appellant in exchange for meeting with Betty and Marie. Wilda denied that any of the officers instructed her on the questions that she should ask appellant. She learned about the storage shed after speaking to Marie and Betty. Wilda remained in Johnson City overnight after her meeting concluded on October 15. Sergeant Phillips took Wilda and Joy Gadd to a hotel. Wilda said Joy Gadd either paid for the hotel or was given money for the hotel. Wilda stated that they may have been given money for food, but she was not sure. She met with Betty and Marie again the following afternoon. She then returned to the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
Wilda acknowledged that on December 21, 2002, she sent an e-mail to Gertrude Lark in which she stated that she planned to request that the district attorney general allow her to meet with appellant in person and that she was "going to push every button [she could] to get [appellant] to tell the truth about everyone." Wilda also acknowledged that she had numerous conversations with appellant during which he implicated Daniel Foster.
Wilda stated that when appellant came to her house on October 4, 2002, the female in the Jeep covered her head when Wilda walked outside. Wilda said the female appeared to have blonde hair but noted that it was dark outside.
Investigator Todd Davis with the Washington County Sheriff's Office testified that he went to different stores in Johnson City searching for containers similar to those in which the victims' bodies were found. He found identical containers at Wal-Mart. The Washington County Sheriff's Office purchased a container, and he verified that it was identical in color, size, and shape to the containers found in the storage unit.
Josh Hopkins testified that in October 2002, he was working at the Johnson City Wal-Mart in store loss prevention. He was responsible for monitoring the video system in the store to apprehend shoplifters and investigate internal theft. In October 2002, officers from the Washington County Sheriff's Office contacted Mr. Hopkins regarding the homicide of the victims and requested that he research the purchase of fifty-gallon Rubbermaid storage totes. Mr. Hopkins was able to locate the times in prior days when the containers were sold and provided a printout to the sheriff's office.
Mr. Hopkins said he located a receipt dated October 7, 2002 at 3:51 p.m. Based upon the receipt, officers requested to see three items: a hatchet, the container, and a pair of shoes. To Mr. Hopkins' knowledge, Wal-Mart was the only retailer at that time that sold that particular type of container. Officers also asked about an air freshener product and provided Mr. Hopkins with search parameters. Mr. Hopkins said he found the air fresheners on the shelf and ran a transaction history on the sale of the air fresheners.
On cross-examination, Mr. Hopkins testified that he did not research whether the containers were sold in Chattanooga or north Georgia. He acknowledged that he did not know who purchased the items listed on the receipt.
Investigator Todd Hull testified that he had been an investigator with the District Attorney General's Office since December 2003 and had been an investigator with the Washington County Sheriff's Office before that. Investigator Hull said that in October 2002, he was called to Winged Deer Park at Boone Lake to investigate the discovery of human remains. When he arrived, he saw a human head floating in the water. The head was brought ashore shortly after he arrived. Investigator Hull recalled that one hand was later found adjacent to DeVault Bridge and that the other was found upstream. Investigator Hull took fingerprints from the two severed hands.
Investigator Hull stated that officers with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office provided him with a missing person report on Adam from Walker County, Georgia. While investigating that lead, Investigator Hull became aware of appellant, who was incarcerated at that time on a separate charge.
Investigator Hull recalled that Dr. Stephens spoke to Dr. Arpad Vass, a scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who conducted "time since death" tests. Dr. Stephens collected samples from the victims, and Investigator Hull transported them to Oak Ridge. Investigator Hull noted maggot activity at Brentwood Drive and sent a photograph of the activity to Dr. Erin Watson, an entomologist.
Investigator Hull testified that he contacted loss prevention personnel at Wal-Mart regarding air fresheners that had been recovered during the investigation. Special Agent Oakley McKinney with the TBI provided Investigator Hull with a break down of the air fresheners, including the type and scent. Investigator Hull said he gave Mr. Hopkins the five types of air fresheners that were found in the storage unit and asked him to research them. Officers recovered two air fresheners of one scent, two of a second scent, and one of a third scent. Mr. Hopkins reported that he was unable to find a purchase for five with that combination but that he found a purchase of six air fresheners on October 7, 2002, that included that combination of five. Investigator Hull requested the video surveillance tapes from the dates in question. He noted that the quality of the tape was poor and said he was not able to obtain any clues from the video regarding the identity of the person who purchased the items.
Investigator Hull stated during his investigation, he learned that officers with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office had the blue Jeep towed from the home of either Betty Willis or Marie Holmes. When officers first executed a search warrant at Brentwood Drive, only the red Jeep was there.
Investigator Hull testified that on October 14, 2002, Betty's residence on Brentwood Drive and Marie's residence on Lowell Street were searched. The Brentwood Drive home also was searched on October 17 and October 23. During the time that search warrants were being executed, officers also were attempting to obtain information from Betty and informed her of the possibility that she could be charged. During the search of the garage at the Brentwood Drive address, officers found wedding photographs taken in August 2002 that depicted the victims, appellant, appellant's daughter Kelly, and her husband. Investigator Hull explained that Kelly and her husband were married in a dual ceremony with the victims.
Investigator Hull testified that appellant was formally charged with killing the victims on October 23, 2002. Investigator Hull served the process on appellant and read the charges to him. Investigator Hull stated that appellant did not have a reaction. Rather, appellant only asked who his attorney would be and whether he could have lunch since he missed it as a result of the meeting.
Through Investigator Hull, the State entered transcripts of telephone calls between appellant and Betty Willis while appellant was incarcerated. During a telephone call on October 14, 2002, Betty asked appellant what to do about the furniture and said that it could not be moved. Betty stated, "It's padlocked." Appellant asked her whether it was because of the check. Betty said that she did not believe so and that she did not have $55.00.
On cross-examination, Investigator Hull testified that when the maggots at the Brentwood Drive address were found, officers from the Johnson City Police Department informed him that the house had been vandalized and the refrigerator had been turned over. On redirect examination, Investigator Hull stated that Betty died several months prior to trial.
Investigator Holly Jamerson with the Washington County Sheriff's Office testified that she was present during the execution of some of the search warrants at the Brentwood Drive address. She collected a can of air freshener from the bathroom. Several cans of the same brand of air freshener were collected from the storage unit. Investigator Jamerson noted that the air freshener was listed on a Wal-Mart receipt as being purchased with other items of interest. She and other officers went to Wal-Mart and looked for items on a particular receipt. Investigator Jamerson had to enlist the assistance of the loss prevention employees who were able to pull the numbers and items that matched the items listed on the receipt.
Investigator Jamerson said she and other officers searched the garage. She recalled a "stench" in the garage that was "terrible" and made it difficult to work. When officers raised the garage door, they found a red fabric swatch where the garage door came down and met the concrete. Investigator Jamerson stated that officers also found packets of notes and letters, a yearbook, and personal mementos that belonged to Samantha in the garage. The personal belongings were found next to photographs of appellant with the victims that had been taken by Olan Mills. Investigator Jamerson also collected cigarette butts from Betty's room.
On cross-examination, Investigator Jamerson testified that the air freshener can was collected from the residence on October 23, 2002. She acknowledged that two search warrants had been executed on the house prior to October 23. She stated that items were strewn throughout the house. The bedroom was difficult to enter because it was dirty and things were in the way. The cigarette butts were found on a dresser in the bedroom.
On redirect examination, Investigator Jameson testified that on October 23, the house was substantially the same from the time that the search warrants were executed on October 15. No items were moved in between those dates. On recross-examination, Investigator Jameson stated that officers conducted a thorough search of the house while attempting to maintain the integrity of the scene. She also stated that she was able to walk into the bedroom without moving things around and climbing over anything.
Lieutenant Steve Sherfey with the Johnson City Police Department testified that in October 2002, he went to a home on Brentwood Drive and assisted officers from the Washington County Sheriff's Office in the execution of a search warrant. While checking the area around the residence, Lieutenant Sherfey found a Rizinay 7.655 automatic pistol and a magazine in the grass between the Brentwood Drive residence and another residence. He said he found the pistol near a garage or outbuilding and did not know who owned the property on which the pistol was found. He spoke to a neighbor who lived beside the Brentwood Drive residence, and the neighbor denied that he had lost a gun. Lieutenant Sherfey testified that he also found "three .32 round . . . unfired bullets" on the ground with the pistol.
Larry Hendrix testified that he lived on Lowell Street in Johnson City for twenty-one years. He recalled an occasion in October 2002 during which officers woke him up and informed him that they were conducting a murder investigation. The officers stated that they had found a pistol behind his garage and asked if they could search the area. Mr. Hendrix consented to the search. The officers asked him if he owned the pistol, and Mr. Hendrix told them that he did not. Mr. Hendrix testified that he would not have left the pistol outside where a child could find it or where it could be damaged by the weather.
Lieutenant Thomas Smith with the Carter County Sheriff's Department testified that in October 2002, he was assigned to the First Judicial Drug Task Force and assisted in executing a search warrant at the Brentwood Drive address on October 17, 2002. Lieutenant Smith found a box of .32 caliber Winchester ammunition in the attached garage. The ammunition was in a paper bag on top of a cabinet or dresser. Lieutenant Smith said the bullets appeared to be round-nosed and were copper colored.
In 2002 and 2003, TBI Special Agent Oakley W. McKinney was a forensic scientist who specialized in latent fingerprints. The trial court accepted Special Agent McKinney as an expert in the field of latent fingerprints. Special Agent McKinney identified a blue tarp that was seized from the storage unit. He testified that the tarp was somewhat shiny and appeared to have never been used. He developed a latent fingerprint from the blue tarp, which he identified as appellant's right thumb print. He stated that he was "positive beyond all shadow of doubt in [his] mind" that the print belonged to appellant. He also noted a possible shoe track on the tarp.
Special Agent McKinney testified that he compared the fingerprint impression of the unknown deceased female with the known impressions of Samantha and determined that they were the same person. He also compared the fingerprint impressions of the unknown deceased victim's severed hands with the known fingerprint impressions of Adam and determined that they belonged to the same person.
On cross-examination, Special Agent McKinney testified that he developed latent prints on other items and determined that those prints did not belong to appellant. He was not able to identify the person to whom the prints belonged. He tested three cartridges found in an outbuilding and did not find any latent prints. He also examined a pistol recovered from a neighbor's house and did not find any latent prints.
Special Agent McKinney was unaware of when the tarp was purchased but said that it was not soiled as if it had been used for years. He acknowledged that he could not determine whether anyone other than appellant handled the tarp or when appellant touched the tarp. He also acknowledged that he did not know where the tarp had been located when appellant touched it.
TBI Special Agent James Russell Davis II, testified that he was a forensic scientist assigned to the microanalysis unit in the crime laboratory and that he analyzed trace evidence. The trial court admitted Special Agent Davis as an expert in the area of forensic analysis. Special Agent Davis assisted in the execution of search warrants at the residence on Brentwood Drive and the storage unit.
Special Agent Davis testified that he collected paint, glass, and carpet standards from the den located in the rear of the house on Brentwood Drive. He collected two types of glass from the den. Both were tempered glass or glass used in windows in vehicles. One type of glass had black paint on it. He also collected a small partial florescent light bulb from the den floor.
Special Agent Davis stated that he collected four different designations of glass from outside the door of the den. Some were tempered glass, and some were milk glass or glass that had a milky white color. He also collected a large quantity of milk glass from the den floor. He noted that the milk glass that he collected from the doorway of the den had built in features that were fairly visible, raised, and had bumps or dots.
Special Agent Davis testified that while he was at the storage unit, he collected a piece of carpet that was in the container with Samantha's body. He observed in the carpet splotches that appeared to be paint. He removed the paint from the carpet for use by another analyst who performed paint comparison. He also peeled paint from the glass collected from the residence.
Special Agent Davis found textured milk glass from the carpet that he analyzed and determined was indistinguishable from the physical and elemental characteristics of the milk glass that he collected from the residence. He explained that his finding meant that the glass had to have come from the same item or an item with the identical physical and elemental composition. He stated that the milk glass recovered from the carpet did not have measurable optical properties because it was translucent.
Special Agent Davis said he collected tempered glass from the carpet that he determined met the same criteria as the tempered glass from the residence. He also said a piece of glass collected from the container matched the optical, physical, and elemental properties of the bulb collected from the Brentwood Drive residence.
Special Agent Davis stated that he saw two five-gallon containers of liquid at the storage unit. He collected a smaller sample of the liquid because he did not want to transport that much material.
Special Agent Davis testified that he collected carpet samples from the Brentwood Drive address and attempted to determine whether the edges of the piece of carpet recovered from the storage unit matched any of the carpet from the residence. He was unable to do this, so he sent the carpet to a fiber analyst.
Special Agent Davis collected a piece of rope that was tied around the storage container where Adam's body was stored. He also collected a piece of rope from the Brentwood Drive residence. There were small pieces of electrical tape on the ends of the rope collected from the house and on one end of the rope from the storage unit. Special Agent Davis said he attempted to put the pieces of electrical tape from the ropes back together but was unable to do so. He determined that the tape on the rope from the residence and the tape on the rope from the storage unit had the same dimensions, were made out of the same material, and had the same sort of adhesive. Special Agent Davis attempted to match the cut ends of the rope together but was unable to do so. He stated that both ropes were corded, were the same color, and were made from the same material.
On cross-examination, Special Agent Davis testified that the yellow rope was a plastic-type rope that is made throughout the world. He noted that the ropes were made from the same material, had the same weave, and had the same black tape on them. He acknowledged that he had seen people put electrical tape around the end of a rope to keep it from unraveling.
TBI Special Agent Randall Nelson was assigned to the trace evidence unit at the TBI crime laboratory and had specialized training in the area of paint evidence and ignitable liquids. The trial court admitted Special Agent Nelson as an expert in the field of paint analysis and flammable materials. Special Agent Nelson testified that in October 2002, he was asked to examine several paint samples and determine their composition. He was also asked to determine whether the samples taken from a container matched samples taken from a residence. Finally, he was asked to examine samples of liquid and to identify them.
Special Agent Nelson explained that when he analyzed paint, he examined the color, texture, layer structures, and the type of paint. He determined the "binder composition" or the portion of the paint that holds the "paint stuff" together and acts as an adhesive to the surface upon which the paint is applied. He also examined the pigment composition or the material that gives the paint a particular color or characteristic.
Special Agent Nelson stated that he analyzed a sample of white paint that was removed from milky glass taken from one of the containers in the storage unit, a sample of white paint removed from a piece of carpet found in the container, and a sample of white paint removed from milk glass that was collected from the back of the Brentwood Drive residence. He concluded that the white paint taken from the milky glass found in the container had the same color, texture, type, binder composition, and pigment composition as the white paint sample collected from the residence. He explained that as a result, the paint sample from the milky glass found in the container could have come from the same source as the white paint from the residence or another source with the same paint history. Special Agent Nelson also concluded that the white paint from the carpet had the same color, texture, type, binder composition, and pigment composition as the white paint sample collected from the residence. He stated that as a result, the paint sample from the carpet could have come from the same source as the white paint from the residence or another source with the same paint history.
Special Agent Nelson testified that he was asked to analyze two cans of liquid. He said his analysis of both containers revealed the presence of kerosene range dissilient. Liquids in the kerosene range include, but are not limited to, kerosene, number one fuel oil, jet aviation fuel, some types of charcoal starters, some types of torch fuels, some types of paint thinners, some types of solvents for insecticide, and some types of lamp oils. Special Agent Nelson stated that the liquid samples were flammable.
On cross-examination, Special Agent Nelson testified that the paints did not appear to have been applied to a surface but were more likely the result of a spill. He stated that because the texture of the paint was rough and bumpy, it was difficult to determine whether the paint was glossy or flat. He also stated that all of the paint cans that were filled with that one batch during the manufacturing process would be the same and that the amount of paint cans filled with that batch would be numerous.
Dr. Arpad Vass, a senior research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was admitted as an expert in "time of death" methodology. Dr. Vass testified that he was provided tissue samples related to the investigation into the victims' homicides. The samples were in plastic zip-lock bags and were on ice. Dr. Vass noted the importance of storing the tissue on ice, explaining that the cold temperatures slowed down the decomposition process. He stated that his role was to determine the length of time since the victims died based upon a chemical analysis of the tissues.
Dr. Vass testified that the soft tissue of the human body is composed of four classes of compounds. The first category is proteins, which make up about 40% of the body mass in terms of soft tissue. The building blocks of protein are amino acids. The second category is nucleic acids, which is genetic material in the cells of the body. The third category is polysaccharides, which are long carbon structures such as sugar or glucose. The fourth category is lipids or fats, which are more varied in the body. Dr. Vass explained that decomposition tended to break large complex macromolecules, proteins, and polysaccharides into their building blocks. This decomposition is completed through enzymatic action using the same types of enzymes that digest food.
Dr. Vass stated that he searches for and identifies the building blocks of the cytoplasm of the cell and quantifies the amount of building blocks in each cell. He explained that each organ has a unique ratio of these building blocks and that the amount of building blocks present is dependent upon three things: temperature, the type of tissue, and the water content. Dr. Vass noted that because the liver has many enzymes, the rate of decomposition in the liver will be faster than heart or kidney tissue. He also noted that the higher the water content in the organ, the faster the decomposition rate.
Dr. Vass testified that he took a small portion of the tissue sample that he received and ground it in a tissue grinder. He stated that this grinding broke down the membranes in the cells and released the cytoplasm where the building blocks were located. Using a centrifuge, he then spun out all of the cell membranes and cell components that were not useful. He siphoned off the fluid that contained the building blocks. The building blocks then went through a chemical process where they were prepared to be injected onto a gas metagraph mass spectrometer. The instrument identified and quantified the amount of building blocks in the sample.
Dr. Vass said he generally chose five organs in the body on which to conduct the analysis. In this case, however, he only received liver and kidney samples from each victim. He believed additional samples were not collected due to the trauma to the victims' bodies. He said this did not affect the results except that the postmortem interval was not quite as narrow as it could have been.
Dr. Vass testified that Samantha's kidney and liver samples were identical in terms of the number of building blocks for which he was searching. Once he analyzed the identity and number of building blocks, he compared the different building blocks to each other within each organ. Dr. Vass said that the liver has high enzymatic content, which is important in analyzing early decomposition events, and that kidney tissue does not have as many enzymes or water, which is important in analyzing later decomposition events. Dr. Vass identified the amino acids that were important and determined the range value, which corresponded to cumulative degree hours ("CDH"). He explained that CDH is on a twelve-hour time scale and is more sensitive than a daily time scale. He then compared the building blocks of the various organs to the CDH values to determine a range. Dr. Vass said the ranges of Samantha's liver and kidneys were identical. He estimated that Samantha's time of death was between October 6 and October 8, 2002.
Dr. Vass testified that the values of Adam's kidney were essentially identical to Samantha's values. Dr. Vass stated that these identical values established that his temperature calculations were correct. It further established that the trauma in the area of the liver and kidneys was relatively insignificant. More severe trauma would have affected the result. Dr. Vass noted that Adam's liver results were much higher than any of the other samples. Dr. Vass explained that the liver is a good indication of the earliest time since death and that Adam's liver was more decomposed than the other tissue samples that he analyzed. Dr. Vass stated his analysis of Adam's liver sample revealed that Adam died much sooner than Samantha. Dr. Vass estimated Adam's time of death as between October 4 and October 8, 2002.
On cross-examination, Dr. Vass testified that his report included temperatures that were collected at the storage facility in January 2003. He stated that he needed to know the temperatures at the crime scene. Because the time in which the victims had been discovered had passed, he had to collect the data regarding the temperatures at that time from the National Weather Service Station. Dr. Vass used the temperatures collected at the crime scene and compared them to the National Weather Service data to obtain a collection factor. He applied the collection factor to what he believed to be the temperatures at the storage unit at the time in which the victims were discovered based upon the National Weather Service data.
Dr. Vass testified that the high and low temperatures for each day were recorded. He considered the temperatures in the storage facility beginning on October 4 because that was the day on which the victims were last seen alive. Dr. Vass stated that the fact that the storage facility was not rented until October 10 had no bearing on his conclusions. He did not know how or where the victims' bodies were stored prior to October 10.
Dr. Vass stated that three groups of temperature data were used: (1) the temperatures from the storage unit; (2) the temperatures from the morgue where the victims' bodies were maintained following their discovery; and (3) the temperatures of the samples after Dr. Stephens collected and froze them. Dr. Vass said that enzymatic activity essentially ceased at the temperature at which Dr. Stephens froze the samples and that as a result, the freezing of the samples had no influence in the decomposition rate. Dr. Vass also said that "as far as [he was] aware, " the temperature data in the storage facility was correctly adjusted for changes that might have occurred.
Dr. Vass testified that if the victims were killed in north Georgia rather than Johnson City, he believed that they were killed together since the kidney samples were identical. The CDH range would have been the same but the dates may have been different. He said the data would have continued to show that Adam was killed first. Dr. Vass stated that it was highly unlikely that Adam died within a few hours of Samantha due to the large difference between Adam's liver sample and kidney sample. Dr. Vass also stated that the fact that Adam's kidney sample matched Samantha's kidney and liver samples indicated that they tracked each other in terms of the environmental temperatures in the place where their bodies decomposed.
Dr. Vass testified that he could not determine how his report would differ had the victims been seen in north Georgia on October 6 without temperature data. He said the CDH values would not have changed.
Dr. Erin Watson, an entomologist, was accepted by the trial court as an expert in entomology and estimation of time of death. Dr. Watson studied flies to estimate the time of death. She testified that blow flies, flesh flies, and musket flies generally arrived the earliest. She stated that those specimens that arrived the earliest in theory would be established with the corpse the longest and would be the closest estimation of the minimum amount of time since death. This amount of time relates to the minimum amount of time that those insects could have gotten to the body and associated themselves with the body or laid eggs.
Dr. Watson testified that if flies arrived first, they laid their eggs in natural orifices such as the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the anal or vaginal regions if exposed, and any bodily wounds. Once the flies laid eggs, the life stages attached to temperature because they are cold-blooded organisms. Dr. Watson said the temperatures are referred to as ambient temperatures because the rate of development of the flies is associated with their micro habitat and temperature.
Dr. Watson stated that in analyzing the time since death, she first identified the specimen. She then referred to published data regarding the specimen's development rates. She next determined the life stage of the specimen. Dr. Watson said that once a fly lays eggs, the eggs become larvae or maggots, then pupae, and finally a mature fly. The flies have three feeding "instars" and then bed down to form pupae. Once they become pupae, they undergo a coloring or tanning of the outer skin. Finally, she examined the ambient temperature associated with the crime scene. When conducting her analysis, Dr. Watson needed specimens that were both alive and dead. She said it is easier to identify the species and stage of development if the specimen is alive. Dr. Watson spoke to Special Agent Drolshagen prior to and during the collection of the evidence.
Dr. Watson viewed photographs of the house on Brentwood Drive and stated that due to the trash and potentially leftover food, a small fly infestation was likely. Dr. Watson viewed another photograph of the residence that she said showed blow fly pupae and dehydrated fly larvae. She said blow flies are most often associated with decaying animal material. Rotting food attracts smaller flies such as the phorid.
Dr. Watson testified that the storage unit was very well-sealed for the most part. Rope was coming out of one of the containers, and the lid had lifted just enough that a few fly larvae had exited. Live fly larvae were collected and sent to Dr. Watson. Dr. Watson stated that she allowed the larvae to mature into adults and discovered that they were blow flies. She noted that the floor of the storage unit was clear and that only five larvae were collected from the floor. She explained that if the storage unit did not have a fairly well-sealed door, flies would have entered the unit because they have a very keen sense of smell. Dr. Watson believed she would have seen more insect activity on the cement floor had they been able to get in and out of the unit. She noted blood spatter coming out of the container where Adam's body had been found. She stated that if the flies had been able to readily enter the storage unit, they would have been "lapping up" those fluids.
Dr. Watson testified that the fly specimen in the container with Adam's body originated from the house. She explained that this did not mean that the blow flies were in the house prior to Adam's death. Rather, it meant that before the container was sealed, the insect evidence associated with the body was in the container. Dr. Watson said the rate of decay or the amount of tissue that had been consumed was very minimal. No empty pupae casings or newly emerged adults were found. If they had emerged from the pupal case but could not get out of the container, officers would have noted dead flies in the container at the time of collection.
Dr. Watson stated that when fly larvae are feeding on tissue, they are in a developmental stage and will remain close to the tissue to continue to feed. When the larvae are ready to migrate away in the prepupal stage, they are still in the third instar but have stopped eating. They try to find somewhere to bed down and form the pupal case. Dr. Watson said there were pupae all within the container with Adam's body, and the pupae were in different stages. There were prepupal and third instar larvae feeding, but they were in all the layers of the fabric.
Dr. Watson said the majority of the flies in the container with Samantha's body were still in the feeding stage. She stated that the container with Samantha's body did not have the same collection of insect evidence as the other container. Dr. Watson said this indicated that the insect evidence in the container with Samantha's body was in a younger developmental stage. When the lid of the container with Samantha's body was removed, the fabric did not have the obvious fly larvae migrating around the top surface, and the container had no evidence of the presence of pupae developing into the adult fly. Dr. Watson noted that the center layer of the container with Samantha's body had blow fly larvae that were actively feeding. Some blow fly prepupal that were migrating were collected in another layer of fabric.
Dr. Watson testified that a great amount of soft tissue was remaining on Samantha's body. She explained that one of the key forces for decomposition of tissue is the consumption of the tissue by fly larvae. Tissue in the head region will normally be seen if no additional flies are arriving and the maggot mass is not increasing. Dr. Watson said that if there had been no barrier to those flies, the head would have been skeletonized, and more tissue would have been consumed.
Dr. Watson testified that the lack of pupae in the container with Samantha's body demonstrated a time difference between the two containers. The bodies were in the same storage unit, were in the same type of container, and had wounds to the head. Dr. Watson said that as a result, she would have found numerous similarities in the containers had there not been a time difference between when the bodies were available to the insects.
Dr. Watson stated that Samantha's body and the fabric above her body had Phoridae pupae, which are small flies associated with different types of organic, vegetative, or animal material. Blow fly pupae in different colors and ranges of different days were in the container with Adam's body. Dr. Watson said no blow fly pupae were in the container with Samantha's body. Dr. Watson also said the blow fly pupae associated with the house most likely migrated from a soiled food source.
Dr. Watson testified that the ambient temperatures were obtained from the Tri-Cities Airport, which was twelve to fifteen miles away. Internal temperature data was recorded from the storage unit, and Dr. Watson made a correction factor based upon the ambient temperature provided by the Tri-Cities Airport. She said the correction factor was approximately seven degrees warmer in the container in the storage unit than outside the storage unit. She noted that it was October and much cooler outside. She stated that the fluctuation from outside the storage unit was less than it would have been in the summer when the inside of the metal storage unit would have been much warmer.
Dr. Watson estimated Adam's time of death as between October 6 and October 8, 2002. She said Adam possibly could have died as early as October 5. Dr. Watson estimated Samantha's time of death as between October 7 and October 10, 2002. Dr. Watson said, "There is no doubt in my mind that Adam was killed before Samantha." She also said there was approximately one and one-half days difference between the time that Adam was killed and Samantha was killed.
On cross-examination, Dr. Watson testified that when she spoke to Special Agent Drolshagen in 2002, she instructed him to collect temperatures at the storage facility. She said that the storage unit was already sealed off and that the container had been removed from the unit. Dr. Watson stated that the unit was not re-opened until January 2003 and that Special Agent Drolshagen was able to enter the unit at that time and record the temperatures.
Dr. Watson was unaware that the storage unit was not rented until October 10, 2002. She believed that the victims' bodies were placed in the containers shortly after their deaths due to the limited amount of insect activity. The containers were physical barriers against additional flies getting near the bodies and laying eggs.
Dr. Watson testified that had the victims been seen alive in north Georgia on October 6, this factor would not have had a great bearing on her opinions regarding temperature conversions. She used a correction factor for the difference between the temperature inside the storage unit and the temperature from the airport. She did not take into account the containers resting on concrete because she did not feel that was an issue. On redirect examination, Dr. Watson testified that Special Agent Drolshagen recorded temperatures at the storage unit at 3:00 p.m. each day from January 9 to January 12, 2003.
TBI Special Agent Don Carman, a forensic scientist in the firearms identification unit, was accepted by the trial court as an expert in the field of ballistics. Special Agent Carman testified that he received one box of Winchester .32 automatic caliber ammunition. The box contained thirty-nine .32 caliber automatic full metal jacket cartridges. All but two of the cartridges were manufactured by Winchester, and the remaining two cartridges were manufactured by Remington.
Special Agent Carman testified that he examined the ammunition in conjunction with three other unfired cartridges found at another location to determine whether any linkage or possible similarities in the manufacturing marks existed. Special Agent Carman examined the bunter mark impressions on the base of the cartridges. He explained that bunter marks appear in different forms and that the bunter marks on the cartridges that he examined were parallel markings. He stated that Winchester could produce more than 100, 000 cartridges per day before changing out the bunter. He also stated that the bunter markings change over a period of time as the bunter is working. He determined that the cartridges found with the pistol and the cartridges in the box were hit by the same bunter tool.
Special Agent Carman testified that he analyzed a semi-automatic pistol and a magazine that held approximately nine cartridges. He said the pistol was very old and that he was unable to identify the manufacturer. He believed the pistol was of Spanish origin but acknowledged that he was unsure. He said he loaded the gun with four Winchester .32 caliber cartridges and shot them into a test tank. Special Agent Carman identified the bullet retrieved from Samantha's body. He examined the bullet in conjunction with the test bullets that he fired with the pistol. He determined that the bullet found in Samantha's body was fired from that pistol.
TBI Special Agent Bradley Everett testified that he was assigned to the serology/DNA unit. The trial court accepted him as an expert in the fields of forensic serology and forensic DNA testing. Special Agent Everett conducted DNA testing on a cigarette butt collected from the residence at the Brentwood Drive address and found that the DNA profile on the cigarette butt was consistent with the DNA of a female offspring of Patty Leming.
Special Agent Everett stated that he conducted DNA testing on three other cigarette butts from the Brentwood Drive address. He designated the cigarette butts as A, B, and C. He said that the DNA profile on cigarette butt A was consistent with the DNA profile of the female offspring of Patty Leming. The DNA profile from cigarette butt C was a mixture of more than one person. The major contributor was consistent with the DNA profile of a male offspring of Teresa Chrismer. Special Agent Everett did not have sufficient information to identify the second contributor. The DNA profile from cigarette butt B was also a mixture of more than one person. The DNA profile was consistent with a mixture of the contributor from cigarette butt A and the major contributor from cigarette butt C.
Special Agent Everett testified that he received a Sears Craftsman sixteen-inch electric chainsaw for testing. He swabbed different areas of the saw in an attempt to collect a sample. He stated that the presumptive test indicated the presence of blood and that additional tests indicated the presence of human DNA. He did not obtain a DNA profile due to an insufficient amount or degraded DNA. He noted that the chainsaw was rusty and that the same environmental factors that rusted the chainsaw also degraded the DNA. He explained that dirt or grease also will inhibit the process of obtaining a DNA profile and stated that the swabs that he collected were very dirty.
On cross-examination, Special Agent Everett testified that he tested the red Jeep and did not find anything linking appellant to the Jeep. He also tested the blue Jeep and determined that stained fabric on the driver's side had appellant's blood on it. Special Agent Everett said he did not find anything in either Jeep linking them to the victims.
Special Agent Everett testified that he conducted DNA testing on an envelope addressed to Betty Hawk. The DNA profile obtained from the envelope was consistent with the DNA of a female offspring of Patty Leming. Special Agent Everett noted that the envelope was postmarked October 8, 2002.
Special Agent Everett said that debris was on the chainsaw but that he did not visually identify any of the material as tissue. He did not find any of the victims' blood on appellant's shoes or clothing or on any of the items that he tested from the Brentwood Drive address.
TBI Special Agent Linda Littlejohn testified that she was employed in the microanalysis section and examined evidence related to fiber comparisons, physical comparisons, and shoe print comparisons. The trial court accepted Special Agent Littlejohn as an expert in these areas. Special Agent Littlejohn stated that she compared a sample of a jacket removed from a body that was in a container with a piece of fabric that was collected from the floor of a garage. She determined that the characteristics of the two samples were consistent and that they had a common origin.
Special Agent Littlejohn examined numerous pieces of fabric and fiber bundles that were on a chainsaw. She determined that the material had characteristics that were consistent with the jacket from the container and that they could have had a common origin.
Special Agent Littlejohn compared a piece of carpet collected from the Brentwood Drive address with a piece of carpet collected from inside a container. She determined that they had consistent characteristics. She stated that the pieces could have had a common origin or could have come from another type of carpet.
Special Agent Littlejohn analyzed a partial shoe print found on a tarp. She compared it to a pair of shoes from Betty Willis and a pair of shoes from appellant. Special Agent Littlejohn said that the shoes were inconsistent with the partial shoe print with respect to tread design. She also said that as a result, neither pair of shoes could have made the print.
Dr. Robert Allen testified that Betty Willis was his patient and was hospitalized on September 15, 2002. Dr. Allen said that Betty felt that she was being watched, was very anxious, and was not sure where she was. He referred to Betty's behavior as "psychotic."
Dr. Allen testified that in 2002, he lived two houses down from Betty. He said that in mid-September, he entered her home and saw that it had been "ransacked." Slogans were spray painted on the wall in a foreign language. The appliances were turned over, and the toilets were damaged. The refrigerator had been turned over, and there were food particles, insects, and maggots on the floor. Dr. Allen stated that the house was not livable and that Betty was having trouble getting the insurance company to cover the damage. She had Dr. Allen look at the house and write a letter to the insurance company describing its condition.
On cross-examination, Dr. Allen testified that although Betty had anxiety issues, she usually was not as paranoid or as irrational as she was during her hospitalization. He stated that Betty had issues with many of her neighbors but that he seemed to get along well with her.
Appellant recalled Special Agent Drolshagen as a witness. Special Agent Drolshagen testified that Dr. Watson requested that he record temperatures at the storage unit in January 2003. He did not recall her asking him to record the temperatures when he collected the larvae in October 2002.
Special Agent Drolshagen testified that he purchased a thermometer that measured temperature and humidity and placed it on the floor of the storage unit where the containers had been. He left the thermometer there for twenty-four hours, went to the storage unit for four straight days, and noted the high and low temperatures for each twenty-four-hour period. The thermometer was not removed from the storage unit, and Special Agent Drolshagen had the only key to the padlock and was the only person who had access to the unit.
Dr. Neal Haskell, an international forensic entomology consultant, was accepted by the trial court as an expert in forensic entomology. Dr. Haskell testified that a "major fatal flaw" in Dr. Watson's analysis was her attempt to correlate the temperatures from the weather station with the temperatures from the storage unit during a completely different season of the year with different temperatures, solar inputs, and other environmental considerations. Dr. Haskell stated that as a result, he did not know at what temperatures that the insects were growing.
Dr. Haskell testified that Dr. Watson erred in using only four data points of temperature measurements from the storage unit when a full weather cycle had not been completed. He explained that the temperatures were taken when the ambient temperatures were declining. A cold front had moved through, and insufficient data was collected to obtain the upswing of the temperatures after the cold front had passed.
Dr. Haskell stated that Dr. Watson used a correction factor in calculating the temperature that the victims' bodies were subjected to in the storage unit for days during which the bodies were not actually in the storage unit. Dr. Haskell explained that an entomologist needs to know the temperatures at the micro-environment where a body is stored and not just the weather station ambient temperatures. He further explained that if an entomologist does not know where the body was stored and the range of temperatures to which the insects were subjected, he or she cannot estimate the length of time that the body was there. He was unsure that there was any evidence of where the victims' bodies were stored prior to being placed in the storage unit. He said that as a result, the analysis could not be completed.
Dr. Haskell said Dr. Watson used the specific species Megaselia scalaris data for an unidentified fly of that family. Dr. Haskell noted 250 or more species of that family existed. He said it was inappropriate for Dr. Watson to use a data set for a specimen when she did not identify the specific species. He also said that it was important to have the species identified so that the correct growth data tables would be used. If the entomologist does not know the species, he or she cannot use the data from another species of the same group.
Dr. Haskell testified that when Dr. Watson recorded the hatching of new flies, she did not record the temperatures at which the flies grew and development progressed. He said that as a result, he had no way of determining how far along into the stages of development that they were. He estimated that they were at the earlier part of the puparia stage. He stated that at eighty degrees, it would take fourteen and one-half to fifteen days for a black blow fly to develop from an egg to a fly. At sixty degrees, it could take twenty-eight to thirty days. He said that as a result, temperatures are critical in judging the rate of growth. He stated that while he did not view the specimens collected, he was confident that Dr. Watson correctly identified two blow flies and assessed their life stages.
Dr. Haskell testified that Dr. Watson calculated 104.8 degree days for assessing the life stage of the puparia of the black blow fly. Dr. Haskell stated that degree days are generally given in ranges. He also stated that the range of degree days for the puparia was between 130 and 140 and up to 160 to 180. Dr. Haskell said that Dr. Watson was "way off" from what the calculated numbers should have been and that he did not know how she calculated her value.
Dr. Haskell testified that Dr. Watson assumed that the phorid fly arrived immediately following death. Dr. Haskell stated that extensive research has established that the phorid fly arrives later in the progression of decomposition. He said several days would have had to have passed before the fly arrived. He explained that there can be a difference between the time of death and the time of insect colonization. Dr. Watson, however, assumed immediate colonization. Dr. Haskell stated that "it is absolutely impossible to give a reliable and trustworthy estimate of when these bodies were colonized based on temperatures and the insects that are involved." He testified that if the insects had colonized on meats and other food from the refrigerator prior to the victims' deaths, he did not believe that an entomologist could differentiate between the flies that originated from the meat and other food and the flies that originated from the bodies. Dr. Haskell disagreed with Dr. Watson's statement that even if the bodies were only in the storage unit since October 10th, it did not have any effect on her analysis.
On cross-examination, Dr. Haskell acknowledged that he did not examine any of the evidence other than the reports and did not view the samples that were collected. He said that had he viewed the samples, he may have been able to provide an opinion regarding the intervals between the deaths of the victims.
Dr. Haskell testified that his primary issue with Dr. Watson's analysis involved the temperatures. He said it would have been more important to take the temperatures in October 2002 when the bodies were discovered. When he finds temperature discrepancies, he generally waits until the anniversary date or close to it to take temperatures. As a result, he would have waited until the following October and a number of additional Octobers to measure the temperatures.
Dr. Haskell stated that Dr. Watson did not use ambient temperatures in her analysis. Rather, he said she used ambient temperatures and a correction factor based upon the temperature readings in January and for the entire period without taking into account the days that the victims' bodies were not in the storage unit. Dr. Haskell acknowledged that he was not provided with everything that Dr. Watson had provided to the jury in explaining her analysis, including a table regarding temperatures in October 2002. He stated that had he had access to all of the tables that Dr. Watson prepared, it could have made a difference in his opinion regarding her analysis. Regardless, Dr. Haskell did not believe that he could say that the victims were killed at different times.
Dr. Haskell testified that the metal walls in the storage unit could have made the temperatures in the unit considerably warmer than the ambient temperatures. He also testified that if the victims' bodies were in the house where flies were present due to the decaying food, the flies would have reached the bodies quicker.
Dr. Haskell testified that Dr. Vass's work was also dependent upon the temperatures. Dr. Haskell said that if the temperatures were flawed, Dr. Vass's analysis also would have been problematic. Dr. Haskell stated that he knew Dr. Vass and respected his opinion.
On redirect examination, Dr. Haskell testified that in determining the temperatures in the storage unit, various factors must be considered, including the type of roof, the location of the unit in the facility, whether the unit faces north or south, any insulation, the flooring, and whether the renter in the next unit operates a heater. Dr. Haskell said that as a result, Dr. Watson could not properly calculate the temperature to which the bodies were exposed using the temperatures at the airport.
Pamela Marsh testified that she was a manager of a trailer park and rented a trailer to the victims on or about September 23, 2002. A few days after the victims moved in, Mrs. Marsh and her husband helped them move a sofa bed into the trailer. Mrs. Marsh said that around 6:30 p.m. on October 4, 2002, Adam came to her house and used the telephone. Adam was standing outside on the porch talking on the telephone when Mrs. Marsh heard him say, "[M]omma, I want to come home." Mrs. Marsh shut the door so that Adam could have his privacy. Mrs. Marsh stated that at approximately 10:30 p.m. that evening, Adam came to her house and turned in the keys to the trailer. Adam told her that he had a sick grandmother in Virginia and that they planned to move in with her. Mrs. Marsh said she later learned from Adam's mother that Adam did not have a grandmother in Virginia. Mrs. Marsh stated that while Adam was talking to her and her husband outside on the porch, their security light came on. A vehicle pulled up, and the security light shined into the window of the vehicle. Mrs. Marsh said she saw appellant sitting in the vehicle. She told an investigator that the vehicle was either blue or gray and that she did not know whether the vehicle was a truck, van, or Jeep.
On cross-examination, Mrs. Marsh testified that she was unsure of the date on which the victims moved the sofa bed into the trailer but that she believed that it was September 28. When she assisted them in moving the sofa bed, she saw that the victims had quite a few things inside the trailer. Following the victims' disappearance, Mrs. Marsh returned to the trailer to clean it out so that she could rent it to someone else. She said the sofa bed, a chair, a mattress, and "little knick-knack things" were still in the trailer.
Mrs. Marsh testified that she told officers that appellant was with the victims when they rented the trailer. She also told officers that they looked at the trailer and said they wanted to rent it. She said she learned from the victims that they were married and instructed them to return to sign a contract. Mrs. Marsh informed officers that while the victims reviewed and signed the lease, appellant walked around the trailer and inspected the property. Appellant walked behind the dumpster and into the woods. Mrs. Marsh also informed officers that Samantha went outside and got $190.00 for the deposit from appellant. Adam, Samantha, and appellant then left together.
Mrs. Marsh stated that while she had said that Adam was at her house around 10:30 p.m., she noted that it was dark outside. She noted that in early October, it becomes dark at around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. When Adam left with appellant, Mrs. Marsh did not see anyone else with them. Mrs. Marsh said that although she later learned that the vehicle that appellant was driving did not belong to him, she saw appellant's face twice inside the vehicle.
Investigator Keith Fretwell with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office testified that in October 2002, he came to Washington County to assist other investigators from Bradley County and to serve a federal warrant on appellant. Investigator Fretwell stated that if he had previously testified that appellant was arrested on the night of October 11, 2002, he does not disagree. He did not recall hearing that appellant asked for an attorney at the time of his arrest.
Brandon Chancy testified that in 2002, he worked on Betty Willis's jeep and observed her ability to pick up heavy objects. He saw Betty pick up a container filled with tools, chains, and ropes. Mr. Chancy said the container was so heavy that he could not lift it. He also said that Betty was approximately seventy-one years old at the time.
Mr. Chancy stated that in 2002, his name was on the title to a blue Jeep Cherokee, which was impounded by Detective Efaw around the same time that appellant was arrested. Mr. Chancy said that it took approximately five years for the officers to release the Jeep and that they did not find any evidence in the Jeep to use in their case. He stated that around the time that the Jeep was impounded, a large side window was broken out of it. He used a blue tarp to cover up the "busted" window. When the tarp was not used, he folded it and kept it in the cargo area.
On cross-examination, Mr. Chancy testified that the window in the Jeep was broken out in August 2002. He only covered the window when it was raining. He acknowledged that the tarp was exposed to dirt, wind, and other environmental elements. Mr. Chancy said the tarp remained in the Jeep until it was impounded. He further acknowledged that he was married to appellant's daughter.
Appellant recalled Larry Scott Miller as a witness. Mr. Miller examined a letter and an envelope in 2003 at the request of the Washington County Sheriff's Office. He stated that the letter was authored by Samantha and identified the writing on the envelope as belonging to Samantha.
On cross-examination, Mr. Miller testified that he was unable to determine when the letter was written. He explained that such a determination required ink dating, which is highly unreliable. He also did not know who mailed the letter. He stated that according to the postmark, it was mailed on October 8, 2002, from Chattanooga.
Thomas John Hathcock testified that he last saw Samantha on Tuesday, October 8, 2002, three days before the victims were reported missing, at the trailer that he, Daniel Foster, and Alisha Foster had rented in Hunter Hill Trailer Park in Rossville, Georgia. On cross-examination, Mr. Hathcock testified that he was not present when the victims' parents completed missing person reports. Rather, he learned that the victims were missing from a news report. Mr. Hathcock stated that when he saw Samantha, her hair was blondish-brown with more blonde than brown. He said that Samantha dyed her hair often and that it could have been light brown.
Steve Holmes, appellant's cousin, testified that the majority of his contact with Betty Willis was unpleasant. He said that when Betty moved in with his grandmother, he did not allow his daughter to visit his grandmother when Betty was there. Mr. Holmes stated that Betty was a very violent person and that he had to disarm her on two prior occasions. He recalled that when he was in his late teens, Betty threatened to kill his mother and grandmother. Mr. Holmes and his father went to the apartment where Betty was living to disarm her. The second occasion occurred at the Brentwood Drive address when ...