COVINGTON - It took a Newton County jury only 20 minutes to find Rick Ray Breedlove guilty of the 2007 murder of Pamela Evans Spencer. It took Assistant District Attorney Melanie Bell only one day to present evidence from 18 witnesses who all agreed that Breedlove was undoubtedly Spencer's killer. It took Superior Court Judge John Ott less than two minutes to sentence Breedlove to life plus five years in prison.
After nearly two years, justice was served rapidly, but not as quickly as Spencer's screams were stilled on Nov. 6, 2007.
The blood-chilling audio recording of her murder was the central piece of evidence presented by the prosecution. Testimony was given showing that, on advice from a veteran law enforcement officer, Spencer had dialed 911 and left the line open when an argument escalated between her and Breedlove at the home they shared on Hickory Hill Drive in Oxford. There were three terrified screams, a gunshot followed by a second gunshot, then silence. Those sounds told the story of what happened the night Spencer lost her life.
Evidence was presented that showed Breedlove and Spencer had lived together for about two years, sharing their passion for rescuing abused dogs. There were 14 dogs living in the home at the time Spencer was murdered. Most had come to Spencer due to some
traumatic situation, and it was her love and concern for these dogs that kept Spencer at her home despite her growing fear of Breedlove. He refused to leave and continued to want to restore their relationship. Testimony was given that Breedlove not only threatened Spencer's life if their relationship didn't continue, but the life of the dogs as well.
Though Public Defender Jennifer Arndt questioned each of the prosecution's witnesses, the defense called no witnesses on behalf of Breedlove, who faced charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Breedlove declined to testify himself and with that announcement, the defense rested.
Breedlove told the judge early in the day that he was dissatisfied with his defense attorneys, but was unable to specifically tell the judge what he was unhappy about. He said he had "not heard anything on my behalf." Ott reminded Breedlove that defense attorneys were not "conjurors," nor could they manufacture evidence or make evidence go away. He asked Breedlove to keep a written record of his complaints against his attorneys during the trial and several times during the course of the day asked Breedlove to read his specific complaints. The defendant's answers, though nearly inaudible, continued to be nonspecific.
Gwyn Basista, Spencer's sister, testified that the victim grew up in Ohio, but moved to Buffalo, N.Y., after graduation from high school, received a bachelor's and master's degrees and worked there until moving to Covington to work for C. R. Bard in 1999.
Basista's testimony was followed by law enforcement and other emergency personnel that responded to her calls for help the night she died. The 911 tape was played in its entirety, from the time Spencer called and left the line open until Newton County Sheriff's Office deputies arrived at the scene and found her lying dead, face down on her patio. A single gunshot penetrated her hand, which was held protectively to the back of her head, and then went into her brain, killing her instantly, according to testimony given by Dr. Keith Lehman, forensic pathologist with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab.
Breedlove was found lying not far away with a gunshot wound to his face and his hand only inches from the .357 Magnum that was used to shoot them both. Testimony was given that the five-shot revolver held two empty cartridges and three rounds of live ammunition when officers arrived.
Investigator Mickey Kitchens testified that a letter was found on the kitchen table only a few feet from the deck where Spencer was shot. That letter was written in the form of a contract that Breedlove had been trying to get Spencer to sign that spoke of their "sacred love" and stating that they were giving it a chance to "grow and blossom." It listed the conditions in which they would continue to stay together by being "considerate and nice to one another ... communicate together ... and help each other be the best persons we can be."
Subsequent testimony from friends and co-workers stated that Spencer was adamant that her relationship with Breedlove was over and she wanted nothing to do with a contract that would supposedly bind them together. She told a co-worker he had stood outside her locked bedroom door all night the night before urging her to sign the contract. In closing arguments, Bell said she believed it was the refusal to sign that contract that brought about the final confrontation.
Cindy Wilder, human resources director for Bard, testified when she cleaned out Spencer's desk after her death, she found another letter that had the title "Disposable Man." That letter, which was also signed "Disposable Man," was said to have come from Breedlove and accused Spencer of lying and being abusive and threatened to tell her friends how she had treated him.
Jeannie Dillard, a self-employed firearms instructor, testified that it was Spencer who purchased the .357 Magnum revolver that wound up killing her. Dillard had given Spencer two lessons in how to fire the weapon.
The most riveting testimony came from two of Spencer's closest friends - Pat Wheeler and Linda Griffith - who recounted details of a vacation trip they took with Spencer and Breedlove in September before the murder. They both told of abusive and controlling behavior by Breedlove, specifically of a tirade he went on for two hours after Spencer asked him not to drive so fast on mountainous roads that had an abundance of deer.
Wheeler described the rage as "venom, just venom. I've never seen rage like that."
Spencer had told them, "He's history when I get back home," but it wasn't to be that easy. The two women had dinner with Spencer the night before her death and both agreed she appeared to be resigned to the fact that he was going to kill her.
"I know he's going to kill me. Just don't let him get away with it," she told them. "All I want to do is live. Is that too much to ask?"
And both women said it was the fear of what Breedlove would do to the dogs that kept Spencer going back to the house.
Griffith said he asked Spencer, "Which one of these dogs do you like the least? I'll take it out and you'll never see it again," and that he threatened the lives of Jazzy and Snazzy, a pair of Papillons that Spencer had hand-raised from birth.
The day of her death, co-worker Angela Cantrell testified she went with Spencer to seek out domestic violence counseling and to the sheriff's office to make a report about the threats. But Spencer stopped short of getting a temporary protective order, saying that Breedlove had told her if she went to the police to have him arrested, he'd get out of jail and kill her and the dogs.
Cantrell enlisted the aid of her friend NCSO Deputy Tony Howard, who met with Spencer and begged her not to go back to the house.
Howard said Spencer was so frightened, her hands were shaking and she would only whisper Breedlove's name and would look around to see if she was being watched. He volunteered to go back to the house for her, but she refused.
Howard told her if she felt threatened, she should call 911 and put the phone down and that would bring deputies in a hurry. That piece of advice she took, but unfortunately she was dead only seconds later.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.