February 26, 2009
The second day of hearings in the murder trial of a Vernon, Ala., man featured a somewhat rare occurrence as the defendant took the witness stand to testify on his behalf.
James Newell, 49, of 706 Sailor Cemetery Road in Vernon, Ala., was arrested in May 2008 and charged with the shooting death of 31-year-old Adrian Boyette at the Slab House bar near Caledonia.
And as Newell, dressed in khaki pants and a white, short-sleeve button-up shirt, spoke to the jury from the witness stand Wednesday afternoon, he and defense attorney William Starks attempted to provide a firsthand account of the events leading up to the shooting.
"Did you shoot Adrian Boyette?" Starks asked Newell.
"Yes," Newell responded as he nodded.
"Why did you go to the Slab House bar that night?" Starks asked.
"I just wanted to see with my own eyes if my wife was with someone else there," Newell added. "I was going to sign the divorce papers that next day if she was. I just wanted to confirm it for myself before I signed the papers."
Prior to the May 14, 2008, shooting, Newell and his wife, Dianne, had been married for 14 days. Before they were married, Newell had been dating his wife "on and off" since the previous summer, Newell explained.
In the months leading up to the Newells'' marriage, Dianne alternated between living with Newell and a man named Tony Hayes, Newell testified.
"The only time I ever met Tony was when I was helping Dianne move out of his house before we got married," James Newell said. "I thought there was a possibility that they could have still been seeing each other, and I wanted to confirm that for myself."
When Newell arrived at the Slab House at about 9 p.m., he saw Boyette standing near Newell''s wife''s truck, Newell said. After Newell asked Boyette if he knew Newell''s wife, Boyette denied any knowledge.
"Then I saw another guy sitting in a truck parked a few cars down in the parking lot. I asked him (Boyette) who that was," Newell said. "He said ''That''s my buddy and you aren''t going to F with him.'' I said OK and turned around and walked back toward my truck."
While the defendant was entering his truck, Boyette ran up behind him and slammed the door on Newell''s leg, Newell said. Newell then closed the door and attempted to drive off, he said.
"I didn''t say anything to offend him. As I was trying to drive off, he started beating on my window and windshield," Newell testified. "I jumped out of the car with the handgun I always carry with me. He said he was going to F my world up and cut me up and everything else.
"I took him at his word, so I shot him," Newell added. "I was in fear for my life."
About 30 minutes after the shooting, police discovered Newell sitting at the base of a tree at his house in Vernon, pointing a gun at his head, police testified Tuesday afternoon.
Although Newell provided police with details of the shooting after officers convinced the him to surrender his gun, Newell did not mention being in fear for his life, said Assistant District Attorney Rhonda Hayes-Ellis.
"These are significant issues that you never brought up while the incident was still fresh on your mind," Hayes-Ellis said to Newell. "You never said he was trying to cut you, did you Mr. Newell?
"You talked with officers for an hour out there in front of your house, and you never mentioned anything like that to them," Hayes-Ellis added.
"It was just the look in his eye," Newell responded. "I thought he would stab me after he said he would."
Voices raised and tempers seemed to flare during the nearly 15-minute exchange between Hayes-Ellis and Newell, during which Hayes-Ellis criticized the suspect for not reporting the shooting to authorities after it happened.
"When you left the scene, did you ever call 911 or go to the sheriff''s office to report that you had killed a man in self-defense?" asked Hayes-Ellis.
"No," Newell responded.
"It true that he never showed any kind of weapon before you shot him?" Hayes-Ellis asked.
"No, he didn''t," Newell said.
"So it''s only now that you say these things about Adrian Boyette," Hayes-Ellis said.
Testimony in the trial resumed this morning. The jury is expected to enter deliberations sometime this afternoon.
1. Sunday morning wreck claims three lives COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY