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The Southern Illinoisan
BY BECKY MALKOVICH, The Southern email@example.com 927-5633
BENTON – James Coulter remembers showering Amanda Tope with dozens of roses and dropping a thousand dollars here and there on her, but he doesn’t remember whether he fired the two blasts from a shotgun that took her life, as well as that of her friend Jack Weston, on Oct. 12, 2006.
“I don’t think it was me,” Coulter testified Tuesday afternoon during aggressive, rapid-fire questioning by Franklin County State’s Attorney Tom Dinn.
He took the stand in his own defense – one of only four witnesses called by his attorneys, Eric Dirnbeck and Mike Rowland – on day four of testimony in his murder trial in Franklin County Circuit Court.
The bodies of Herrin resident Tope and Weston, both 31, were discovered Oct. 13, 2006 in Weston’s Zeigler residence.
Rowland questioned Coulter, 46, of Herrin about his relationship with Tope which began, Coulter said, in February 2005. Before and during the marriage, Coulter said, he was generous to Tope.
“I gave her gifts and money, probably spent $800 on roses in three weeks, gave her a thousand dollars here and there … nothing any other man wouldn’t do for his wife,” Coulter testified. “I’m a giver. I loved her.”
The couple married on July 5, 2006, and split just a few weeks later on Sept. 23 when Tope left him, Coulter testified. He blamed the breakup in part on fights that occurred “quite often when she drank,” he said.
He testified that he battled depression “for some time” and was taking antidepressant medication samples given him by his family doctor. He said he tried to commit suicide the weekend Tope left him and was in Herrin Hospital’s intensive care unit for about three days.
When questioned about the days and hours before the murders, Coulter said he had trouble remembering specific dates, times and incidents, but denied ever making threats to kill Tope or Weston, as previous testimony alleged.
On the day of the murders, he said he woke up depressed and a phone call he made that evening to Weston, who had three or four dates with Tope prior to their deaths, did not help lift his depression.
He said the conversation was not hostile in tone, but he said he told Weston, “I just wish you’d wait until we get divorced. He said, ‘I think I like your wife. I think I’ll keep her around.'”
He said he borrowed a shotgun from a friend with the intent of suicide. He said he first went to Tope’s mother’s grave at a Herrin cemetery and “had a conversation with her. I told her I was sorry I couldn’t be there for her and that I had failed Amanda.”
Later, he traveled to his own mother’s grave site at a Blairsville cemetery, he said.
“I laid on the grave and put the gun under my chin. I was going to shoot myself,” Coulter said. “But then I started thinking about blood splatter on the grave” and of his daughter and a life insurance policy that would not be paid if he killed himself.
After having second thoughts about suicide, he said, he decided to go to New Mexico, where he was thinking of relocating his business, a thought confirmed in earlier testimony by a friend.
He said he arrived in New Mexico Friday evening and learned of the murders when he placed a call to his cousin, who told him police were looking for him. He said he decided to check into a hotel to get some sleep before meeting up with his cousin in the morning to turn himself in to police for questioning.
Coulter denied killing Tope and Weston.
“No. No way,” he said.
During cross-examination Dinn questioned Coulter about his lack of recall regarding the days and hours leading up to the murders.
Dinn asked Coulter if he wanted the jury to believe that “some unknown, third-party interloper kicked in the front door of Jack Weston’s house, shot Jack Weston, walked through his blood to the bedroom where Amanda Tope was in the closet, shot her, then walked back out, stepping again in Jack Weston’s blood before leaving the house? You want us to think some mysterious person, some third party did that?”
“I don’t think it was me,” Coulter replied.
“You don’t think it was you?” Dinn asked.
“That’s exactly what I just said,” Coulter testified. “From day one I have asked for truth serum, a polygraph. That’s why I am sitting here … to get to the truth, to get the truth out.”
Dinn asked him why he thought his sister and daughter testified previously that Coulter had confessed to them he shot Tope and Weston.
“They have no reason to lie,” Coulter said, but, “I don’t think I killed them. In my mind and my heart, I don’t think so.”
Judge Leo Desmond told the jurors that closing arguments and jury instructions would be presented this morning, with deliberations to follow.