The murder trial of Amanda Hayes, above, ended up on national television, including the “Nancy Grace Show,” with host Nancy Grace, below center.
Former St. John resident Amanda Hayes was convicted of second degree murder by a Raleigh, North Carolina jury and sentenced to between 13 and 16-and-one-half years in jail by Judge Don Stephens on Wednesday, February 19.
Hayes, 41, was found guilty of second degree murder for her part in killing 27-year-old mother of two Laura Ackerson in July 2011. Amanda Hayes’ husband, Grant Hayes, who lived on St. John for several years with his then-girlfriend Laura Ackerson and their two young sons, was convicted of first degree murder in September 2013 and is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for 11 hours before handing down its second degree murder conviction following a 13-day trial which featured testimony from 49 witnesses, including Amanda Hayes.
During the trial, prosecutors alleged that Amanda Hayes worked with her husband Grant Hayes to murder Ackerson, the mother of Grant Hayes’ two sons. Laura Ackerson and Grant Hayes were in a heated custody battle over their two young sons when prosecutors allege Grant and Amanda Hayes killed Ackerson, dismembered her body with a power saw, packed her remains in coolers and transported the body pieces to Texas, where they dumped Ackerson’s remains in a creek near the home of Amanda Hayes’ sister.
Headlines on television stated “Woman helps hubby murder and dismember former lover”
Defense attorneys, however, contended that Amanda Hayes only found out that Ackerson was dead after she arrived in Texas with her husband, Grant Hayes’ two sons and the couple’s one-month-old daughter, Lilly, according to a www.newsobserver.com story.
“Amanda Hayes testified over the course of two days that she did not kill Ackerson nor help with the dismemberment,” according to the report. “She said she did not know that Ackerson was dead in July 2011 until arriving at her sister’s house in Texas and having a conversation with her husband outside, under the cloak of darkness, as he fingered a machete.”
“Amanda Hayes said she was coerced and afraid of her husband,” according to the Raleigh, North Carolina newspaper website. “She said she was fearful that he would harm her grown daughter and the infant Lilly, barely a month old when Ackerson was killed.”
Before being sentenced, Amanda Hayes addressed Judge Stephens asking for leniency, as seen in a video on the North Carolina news website www.wral.com.
“Your honor, I would just like to apologize with my whole heart, being, soul — first to Laura, I apologize to her, to her family, to her children, to my family, to Grant’s family, to everyone who had to work this case, to everyone who had to sit through this trial, to everyone in the media who has had to watch this and that it has touched their life,” Amanda Hayes told Judge Stephens. “I am so so sorry that this touched my life in any shape, form or fashion or anyone that I love or care about or anyone and I truly, truly am sorry with every ounce of my soul.”
Laura Ackerson’s father, Rodger Ackerson, however, didn’t buy Amanda Hayes’ story and painted her as a manipulator, according to the Raleigh News Observer story.
“She’s a manipulator, she’s a liar,” Rodger Ackerson was quoted talking about Amanda Hayes in the report. “She uses that sing-songy voice when she wants to get something from you. That doesn’t work with me.”
Prosecutors went a step further than Rodger Ackerson and alleged that Amanda Hayes, a former actress, had been preparing for the role of her life, according to the www.newsobserver.com report.
“Prosecutors contended that Amanda Hayes’ time on the witness stand was ‘the performance of her life,’” according to the report. “Prosecutor Becky Holt said Amanda Hayes had been preparing for her courtroom performance this month for nearly two years. Holt said Hayes had access to police reports and evidence in the case and developed a storyline that seemed ‘too rehearsed.’”
While Amanda Hayes’ defense team ponders their case for an appeal, Rodger Ackerson reminded people what the gruesome trial was really about, according to the report on www.newsobserver.com.
“This whole mess is about four people,” Ackerson was quoted in the www.newsobserver.com report. “It’s about Laura and three kids.”
Laura Ackerson and Grant Hayes’ two sons, Little Grant Hayes and Gentle Hayes, along with Amanda and Grant Hayes’ daughter, now 3, all live with Grant Hayes’ mother in Kinston, North Carolina.
Before handing down his sentence of between 13 and 16 and a half years behind bars to 41-year-old Amanda Hayes, with credit for her two and a half years already served, Judge Stephens had one last comment for her, according to the www.newsobserver.com report.
“My problem, I think, here is that I personally believe, based on my view of the evidence, that it is quite possible and likely that Amanda Hayes could have saved the life of Laura Ackerson and she chose not to,” Stephens was quoted in the report. “She chose to participate in her killing.”