August 14, 2013 10:53:29 AM
Sarah Fowler - firstname.lastname@example.org
The state's case against accused murderer Brian Holliman continued Tuesday in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court. Holliman is accused of shooting and killing his wife, Laura Lee Godfrey Holliman, with a shotgun at their Caledonia home in 2008. Holliman maintains the shooting was an accident.
Holliman was convicted of murder in 2009, but the verdict was overturned on appeal and a new trial ordered.
Katie Godfrey, the deceased's sister and the first witness for the prosecution, took the stand again Tuesday morning and defense attorney Steve Farese attempted to show the jury inconsistencies in statements she provided to law enforcement. Farese pointed out differences between Godfrey's hand-written and typed statements.
The typed statement, which came days after the hand-written statement, mentioned an incident that occurred on Oct. 25, the day Laura Lee died. In that statement, Godfrey said she witnessed Brian Holliman attempt to confine her sister in the closet by pushing a computer desk in front of the door. The statement noted the appearance of the room, including clothes and hangers on the floor and the bed moved from its usual position. In addition to the disheveled bedroom, Godfrey's typed statement included a mention of a $100,000 life insurance policy Brian Holliman had taken out on his wife without Laura Lee's knowledge.
The hand-written statement did not mention the physical altercation between Brian and Laura Lee Holliman, the appearance of the bedroom, or the life insurance policy.
Allgood questioned Godfrey on her two differing statements.
"I had just actually come to the realization that she was dead," Godfrey testified. "When they brought me into the police station I didn't really know what to do. I just wrote down everything I could at that point in time," she said.
Days later, Godfrey again spoke with Detective Eli Perrigen of the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department.
"That statement, I remember being with Eli that day, I'm not sure who typed it up but I know I didn't," she said. "I could have sworn that I wrote it out for them. I may not have or I may have."
Allgood asked Godfrey why she had not included the discussion of the life insurance policy in her original statement
"I told them everything that happened that night from the best that I could remember it," Godfrey said.
Allgood again asked about Holliman's demeanor after the shooting.
Godfrey said he appeared upset but was not crying. "When I saw him, he was shaking and breathing extremely hard. I didn't see any tears, any wetness or anything to me. By the way I took it, it didn't seem like it bothered me that much."
Friend of deceased said she planned divorce
The state's next witness was LeAnn Tucker. Tucker coached a youth cheer-leading squad with Laura Lee and testified about an argument that occurred between the deceased and Brian Holliman during a youth football game on the day of Laura Lee's death.
Before the game began that morning, Tucker testified that Laura Lee told her she had just served Holliman with divorce papers.
"Laura Lee was ready to get a divorce," Tucker testified. "Things had not gotten any better and she had made her mind up that she was ready to leave."
Tucker said that she and Laura Lee had had multiple "detailed conversations" regarding the divorce process, including which attorney to use, custody arrangements and which paperwork she would need to file.
Once the game started, Brian Holliman came to the fields. Tucker testified she had a conversation with him about Laura Lee serving him with divorce papers that morning.
"He told me that he didn't want a divorce and wanted to know if I could help him, talk to Laura Lee about reconciling their relationship," Tucker said. "I told him she had made her mind up and she wanted a divorce but I would talk to her as a friend."
Tucker said Holliman told her he was not going to get a divorce.
"He was not happy. He told me, pretty much in a desperate way, that he wasn't going to get a divorce," she said. "He didn't want to lose her, couldn't live without her. He said he would not get a divorce. It was a statement, just, I'm not getting a divorce. Period."
Tucker said Brian Holliman repeatedly came down from the stands and yelled at Laura Lee, saying, "Laura Lee, I need to tell you something." He also called his wife's phone.
Tucker said Laura Lee ignored Brian Holliman. After the game, Tucker and Laura Lee were talking when Tucker said she noticed a bruise on Laura Lee's arm. When she asked her friend what was going on, Tucker said Laura Lee told her about the fight she and Holliman had where he locked her in the closet.
"She had been locked in the closet. She went to the ER late that night, early Tuesday morning for a migraine. Also during the time we were talking I noticed a bruise on her arm," Tucker said.
After the game, Tucker said she received a text message from Brian Holliman. Tucker testified Holliman asked her to "please help me with Laura Lee." Instead of responding to Brian Holliman, Tucker called Laura Lee to ask if she was OK. Laura Lee assured Tucker she was fine. The two never spoke again.
Farese repeatedly objected to Tucker's testimony as hearsay. During his cross examination, Farese asked Tucker if she had been "coached," noting that she had smiled at the jury several time.
Tucker denied being coached and said, "I'm just a happy person."
Farese asked Tucker about a Nov. 12 statement she gave to law enforcement, which described what she knew of Brian Holliman and Laura Lee's relationship. Farese asked if she believed Holliman killed Laura Lee.
"At this point in time, your mindset was Brian Holliman had killed your friend, Laura Lee Holliman, is that correct?
"Yes sir," she responded.
Mentioning Tucker's statement, Farese then asked Tucker why she believed Holliman killed Laura Lee.
"Did someone convince you that Brian Holliman had killed his wife when you gave your statement on Nov. 12? Did someone tell you things to make you believe that Brian had killed his wife?" Farese asked.
"I personally believe that, because I knew her and she would never leave her children," Tucker said.
When asked if the shooting may have been an accident, Tucker replied, "It may have been an accident, but I don't believe it was on her part."
Jones testifies about last phone call
Angela Jones, whose daughter was friends with Laura Lee's oldest daughter, also testified for the prosecution. Laura Lee was her daughter's cheer-leading coach.
Jones testified that Laura Lee had spoken numerous times about leaving Brian Holliman and first mentioned divorce papers in August 2008.
Jones also revealed that Laura Lee and Jones' brother, Wesley Gant, had gone to the movies together days before her death. Jones said the two dated "briefly" in high school.
Jones testified that she and Laura Lee were on the phone at 3:56 p.m. on the day of the death while Laura Lee was in the closet looking for an outfit to wear to a football game that night.
"She said she was in the closet and I asked if she was OK and she said yes, she was fine. She was looking for something to wear. She said that Brian was being a butt so she was just going to watch the ballgame," Jones said.
Jones began to get emotional on the stand and was choking back tears.
"By then she sounded like she was upset and I didn't know what she was upset about so I said, 'Well, I'll call you or you call me later' and I told her bye. She never said bye. She always said bye before she got off the phone."
Brian Holliman made the 911 call at 4:01 p.m.
Jury hears 911 call
Dorthia Robertson, the 911 dispatcher who took the call that October afternoon, said Holliman's voice showed signs of extreme stress.
"The call came in (and) his voice was very elevated -- elevated to the point at the time, you didn't know if it was a female or a male that called in," Robertson said. "He relayed that he had been outside in the yard with his children and he came in and found his wife there in a pool of blood."
Excerpts from the 911 call were played for the jury, including the following statements from Holliman:
"Yes ma'am. My wife just shot herself.
"I was outside playing with my kids, I come back in the house 'cause I heard a loud sound and my wife shot herself. She's laying in a pool of blood."
"There's a gun laying in front of her. I don't' know what to do. I got three little babies here.
"I walked in there to check on her and there's a big old puddle of blood and I stepped all in it. I don't know what to do. She was in the closet and the door is open and everything. Can I touch her?"
The dispatcher asked Brian Holliman if Laura Lee is breathing.
"I was outside playing in the yard with my kids and I heard a real loud gunshot...Yesterday she said she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to be out of this world...We've been having problems and her mama's been put in jail and we've got her sister here," he said.
At one point during the call Holliman can be heard talking to his youngest daughter Brianna, telling her to "come with Daddy."
The dispatcher again asked Holliman if Laura Lee was breathing.
Holliman initially told investigators that the dispatcher told him to move the body to check for a pulse. While Robertson did ask if Laura Lee was breathing, at no point during the call did she tell him to move the body.
Brianna, who was two years old at the time, was in the house at some point after Laura Lee's death. The couple's other two children, Raylee and Brooks, remained outside. According to family members, Brianna, who is now seven, has been subpoenaed by the defense and is expected to testify. Farese said he was unsure if the child would be called.
First responder testifies
Lowndes County Sheriff's Department Deputy Steve Hatcher was the first on the scene at the Wolfe Road home and arrived moments after the 911 call was placed. Holliman can be heard talking to Hatcher on the 911 recording.
Hatcher testified that when he arrived, he saw Brian Holliman in the front yard standing next to his truck and talking on the cell phone. Brianna was standing on the truck's seat next to her father. Hatcher said Holliman appeared "excited" but was not openly crying.
"He was on the phone and he was crying but he didn't have any tears in his eyes. You couldn't see any tears," Hatcher said. "I would say he was excited in the demeanor and the way he was trying to explain things to me."
Hatcher said he entered the home to check on Laura Lee and saw bloody bootprints throughout the home, including down the hallway, in the living room and the master bedroom. The trail led to the back door of the home.
"You could see the bloody bootprints going out the back door," he said.
Hatcher walked to the back bedroom and discovered Laura Lee lying next to the bed with her right arm covering her face. He checked for a pulse but Laura Lee was already deceased.
Photos submitted into evidence showed the body of Laura Lee lying next to the bed with her feet still inside the closet with a shotgun lying beside her. The butt of the shotgun was aligned with her ankles and the top of the barrel rested under her chin. The photos of the bedroom revealed blood stains on the closet door.
Hatcher testified that Holliman said he moved the body and the gun to check his wife's pulse, saying, "He said he had moved the gun so his fingerprints were going to be on the gun."
On cross examination, Hatcher told Farese that Holliman appeared to be "acting."
"To me, sir, he was acting like he was crying. It may have been poorly explained in my report...but it was more of a whining type voice instead of hysterical," he said.
Caledonia Town Marshal Ben Kilgore arrived on scene within minutes of Hatcher. He was the state's final witness for the day.
Kilgore, who has known Brian Holliman since he was a child and attends church with his family, said he thought Laura Lee's death was a homicide. Kilgore testified he saw "very little tears" in Holliman's eyes.
"(He was) real red-faced, flushed, just moaning and groaning, kind of incoherent," Kilgore said.
"If there were any tears it was very, very little."
Kilgore waited outside with the children and testified that he did not enter the house.
On cross examination, Farese questioned Kilgore on the fact that some law enforcement on scene thought Laura Lee's death was a suicide. "Yes sir, some of them thought it was a suicide," Kilgore said.
However, Kilgore told Farese he thought the death was a homicide.
"My opinion, it wasn't accidental," he said, to which Farese responded, "Have you ever heard opinions are like certain other parts of your anatomy? Everybody's got one."
The state rested for the day and jurors were excused around 3:30 while the state and defense entered into a motion hearing regarding the testimony of the medical examiner.
After an hour-and-a half meeting, Judge Lee Coleman ruled the doctor was not a "trajectory expert" and therefore the word "trajectory" could not be used in front of the jurors at any point during the trial.
Court reconvened today with Lowndes County Investigator Eli Perrigen testifying for the state.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.