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Wednesday, April 3, 2013 12:02 am
Elsie Hodnett Annistonstar.com
PELL CITY — The murder trial of a Moody man who allegedly shot his girlfriend to death began Tuesday.
“Jeffrey Hamby and Nicole McNair got in a disagreement over two dogs,” St. Clair County Assistant District Attorney Gwendolyn Connelly said in her opening statement. “It was a big fight and they both were injured. He shot her in the back of the head and the bullet traveled through her chin, breast and ended up in her thigh.”
She said the Jan. 25, 2012, murder is not a mystery case.
“We know who killed Nicole,” she said.
Connelly said McNair was losing the fight and had lacerations, bruises and other marks on her.
“The defendant might have had one scratch and a cut on the finger,” she said. “Nicole was losing the fight and she was shot in the back of the head — executed by the defendant.”
Defense attorney Lyle Harmon said being on a jury is hard, making tough decisions without prejudice or sympathy.
“This case is about two things,” he said. “It’s about intent and a difference of opinion. The state says he intended to kill her. We say not. Hopefully you haven’t already condemned the defendant.”
Harmon said murder is defined as the intent to cause death, while manslaughter is recklessly causing death of another person.
“Nicole hit the defendant in the back of the head with a fire extinguisher,” he said. “This was a case of domestic violence without question going both ways. Yes, she was losing the fight but it doesn’t mean he meant to kill her.”
Jurors first heard witness testimony from Marvin Whitlock, Hamby’s nearest neighbor.
Whitlock testified that at about 8:30 that night, Hamby knocked on the door and said, “My girlfriend’s been shot. Call 911.”
Whitlock said Hamby then went back down the steps.
Leon Henderson, a scuba diving buddy of Hamby’s, testified that he received a phone call from Hamby at about 7 p.m. the day of McNair’s death.
“We started out with pleasantries then he said Nicole had hit him in the back of the head with the fire extinguisher,” he said. “I was like, ‘What?’ I asked if he was OK and offered to take him to the hospital but he said no.”
Hamby said McNair left after hitting him with the fire extinguisher.
Henderson said Hamby told him that he had placed the dog in a chest of drawers.
“I said take the dog out of it,” Henderson said. “He said he had a gun, he had been drinking and he was scared. I told him to place the dog on the back porch so she could get it and talk through the door.”
Next to testify was Moody Police Capt. Daniel Praytor, who was a lieutenant at the time of McNair’s death. He said he arrived at the house and announced “Police” loudly, then entered.
“A gentleman came through the hallway and said, ‘Thanks for coming. She’s down there,’” Praytor said. “I asked where the weapon was and he said it was in his hand when she rushed him.”
Praytor said another officer placed Hamby under arrest and read him Miranda Rights.
He testified that Hamby said he took Klonopin and Prozac that day and had drunk a “handful” of alcohol.
“I saw blood on his hands and asked if he was injured and he said he didn’t think so,” Praytor said.
Praytor also testified he never took the gun into his possession or entered the bedroom where McNair was killed.
Leeds fire medic Kyle Shell said he and fire medic Jeffrey Rogers responded to the incident.
“I was witness for Jeff, who lifted her head to see where the gunshot was,” he said. “Nothing was moved but her head. I saw the revolver on the desk or nightstand, but I don’t recall seeing a knife in the room.”
Shell said he did a patient care report on Hamby, who did not complain of any pain, had dried blood on his hands, a cut on his right pointer finger, and a possible scratch or stretch mark on his chest.
“His pupils were reactive but sluggish, meaning he could have been under the influence of alcohol or other substances, but he complained of no injury and no pain, and I saw no evidence of a head injury,” he said.
Darlene Argo, Hamby’s housecleaner, testified that when she came in the day of the alleged murder to clean, McNair said she didn’t feel well and had taken a cough syrup with codeine and went into the guest room.
“I cleaned everything but the guest room,” she said.
Argo testified the pistol was normally on top of the fridge, and she moves to dust under it, but never saw bullets or checked to see if it was loaded.
“There was a little fire extinguisher on the fridge that I moved to clean,” she said. “It isn’t heavy.”
Next to testify was Moody Police Investigator Paul “Eric” Hansen, who said he, Detective David Scott and Mark Hopwood, with the Calhoun-Cleburne County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, investigated the case.
Hansen testified the firearm was found in the office and a knife was collected from the floor. Two days later, a search warrant was obtained for the fire extinguisher and also a bag of bullets from on top of the fridge, loose bullets on the kitchen furniture and McNair’s phone from the back yard.
“No prints were obtainable from the fire extinguisher, gun or knife,” he said.
Hansen said Hamby told him he wasn’t sure if the gun was loaded.
“He said she (McNair) hit him with the fire extinguisher, then later she walked down the hall and they both went for the gun and it went off,” Hansen said. “He said he thought Nicole was going to hit him with the gun and that it was unloaded, however, they wrestled for it and it went off immediately. He couldn’t explain why she was shot in the back of the head and said they were facing each other.”
Rogers, who responded to the incident with Shell, said he originally thought the exit wound was the back of the head and the entrance wound was under the chin, because of the amount of blood at both sites.
Rogers testified that after viewing the autopsy photos, it is his opinion that the rear head wound was more consistent with an entrance wound than the front chin wound.
When shown a photograph of the scene, Rogers testified that he did not remember seeing the knife, and that he recalled the gun handle facing the other way.
Justin Sanders, a forensic toxicologist for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, said he detected a couple compounds in a sample of McNair’s blood that was sent for analysis.
Sanders said the two compounds were dextromethorphan, found in Robitussin, and another compound that is essentially Benadryl.
“I tested for hydrocodone but none was detected,” he said. “None of the compounds was in a lethal range.”
Alex McNair, Nicole McNair’s son, testified Tuesday that one of the dogs his mother had at the time of her death was actually his and she was keeping it for him while he served in the U.S. Navy.
“We spoke frequently,” he said. “I was very close to her. I miss my mom — it has affected our entire family — it’s been hard.”
St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Jim Hill said testimony will resume at 9 a.m. today at the St. Clair County Courthouse in Pell City.
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.