COVINGTON -- The sentencing phase of Cobey Lakemper's murder trial began Friday morning in Newton County Superior Court with prosecutor Layla Zon shoring up her recommendation for the death penalty by presenting testimony from victims of other crimes he committed during his 2005 spree.
Lakemper was convicted Thursday of the slaying of Comfort Inn motel clerk Wendy Cartledge Carter of Covington in August 2005.
Zon told the jury they would hear from victims, police officers and view a videotape of his armed robbery of the Clarion Hotel in Kansas City, Mo. She told them to watch his demeanor during the robbery to see if he wasn't "cool as a cucumber" as he loaded a round in the chamber of the gun he pointed at the clerk at that hotel.
She told them they would also be hearing from the family of Carter telling of the impact her death had on them, "losing a mother, losing a wife and losing a daughter."
Office of the Georgia Capital Defender attorney Emily Gilbert presented opening arguments for the defense, telling the jury that they had spoken by finding Lakemper guilty on all counts.
"We accept and respect that decision," she said, but adding that they were about to enter into making "the most serious and solemn decision you can make and that is whether a fellow human being lives or dies."
She told them their decision on the death penalty would be their "individual moral choice," and they should consider if "death by lethal injection is the only appropriate punishment for (Lakemper)."
She promised testimony that would show "he wasn't born capable of doing the things he did," pointing out that by the age of 12 he was "drinking to alter consciousness."
She said during his struggles he was still "striving to have success" and called the birth of his son Chandler his "joyous success. Chandler is his bright spot ... and he continues to try to parent even from his jail cell."
She asserted that Lakemper was not the "worst of the worse, that segment of the population for whom the death penalty is reserved -- a person who can never be redeemed."
Zon began her presentation of previous victims with testimony by Angela Wickes, a woman who was employed in 2005 as a Kansas City, Mo., hotel clerk working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, much like Carter worked at the Comfort Inn in Covington.
Wickes told of her encounters with Lakemper who called her several times to complain that somebody had been in his room and that a diamond engagement ring belonging to him was missing. She said when she offered to call the hotel's security service for him, he refused, instead telling her she needed to come to his room. Later he called to say he found the ring, but still maintained someone had been in his room.
Finally around 2 a.m. he showed up at the front desk and pulled a gun on Wickes and demanded money. She described her "vivid" memory of seeing the bullet fall into the chamber of the pistol as he readied the gun to fire. She said her key enabled her to open only one cash box and she told him that and attempted to convince him by showing him her key.
"I told him I would give him anything I could that he wanted and that I had three kids at home, young boys, and I wanted to make sure I went home," she said.
Lakemper then ordered her to come out from behind the counter where he was, but she refused.
"He told me to run down (a nearby) hallway where he was going to shoot me," she said.
She told of running, getting on an elevator that was open and not stopping until she came to the security desk where she called 911. A videotape confirmed Wickes' account of the robbery.
Other witnesses introduced by Zon included the detective who handled the hotel robbery, the victim of a burglary in Missouri, the pawn broker who purchased the stolen items, the victim of a burglary in North Carolina, the detective who investigated that burglary and the victim of a burglary in Manchester, Tenn. Each of these witnesses was cross-examined by defense attorney Joseph Vigneri.
Next, Zon called to the stand Jacquelyn Sims Brady, a former Newton County Sheriff's Office detention officer who began working for the NCSO in June of 2005, and continued until she was laid off in 2010 due to budget cuts. Among her duties was overseeing the inmates of "D block," a maximum security location that housed Lakemper.
She described becoming acquainted with Lakemper as she would with any inmate, answering questions and ensuring the inmate's rights were protected.
"I always tried to look at inmates and say, 'What if that was my family member?' I treated them with respect," she said. "He (Lakemper) was always very respectful to me. ... But he got to where he wouldn't talk to any of the other officers and that made it hard on me ... I had to bear it all on my shoulders and jump when he said jump."
She said her emotional state was "very vulnerable" at that point in her life due to a break up with a boyfriend and she admitted discussing her personal life with Lakemper.
"He would question me over the intercom and sometimes I was crying and he could tell," she said. "He'd say, 'What's wrong?' and I'd tell him I wasn't having a good day. He was very sympathetic and charming and tell me, 'You're going to be OK ... ' I was depressed and it was nice having someone acknowledge it and saying kind words."
Zon asked her if this talk ever progressed to a sexual relationship, and Brady admitted that at one point she allowed Lakemper to touch her breast.
"He was blackmailing me ... I was scared of him," she said, adding that Lakemper threatened to tell her superiors that they had been writing letters to each other.
She said the blackmailing escalated to him demanding that she send money to his son and she told of sending $600, her rent and electric bill money, resulting in her electricity being cut off and causing her to have to move in with a friend. She also said he demanded she send a $50 gift card to his son at Christmastime for a new jacket and sign it "Santa's little helper."
Zon had her admit that her relationship with Lakemper had violated the Sheriff's Office rule on fraternization between detention officers and inmates.
Zon asked Brady to confirm an internal affairs investigation took place after Brady was laid off from the Sheriff's Office that uncovered the unorthodox relationship between the two, which included the pet name "Pretty Witch" Lakemper had for Brady, and "Cool Witch," which he had for one of her co-workers. The names were derived from the TV show "Charmed," which all of them watched.
Zon asked Brady why she succumbed to Lakemper's threats and she replied, "Because I was afraid of losing my job and my child."
In cross-examining her, Vigneri asked Brady if her testimony was the result of her fear that the District Attorney's Office might bring criminal charges against her in the future, which she denied. She also denied the allegation that she encouraged Lakemper to "go in and take a shower," and that she had said she could lean back in her chair and see his body while showering.
"All inmates are advised to take at least five showers in seven days," Brady replied.
He asked her if she sent her letters to Lakemper's mother, who, in turn, forwarded them to Lakemper, and she admitted that was the case. He asked her if her letters were of a sexual nature and she agreed that they were, and when he asked if this was something she had been lured into doing by Lakemper and not something she would ordinarily do, she said that was true.
At that point Vigneri introduced a written reprimand from Brady's superior at the Newton County Detention Center, cautioning her about discussing intimate details of her life with other inmates. She denied that the allegation was true and said at least one of the inmates knew a friend of hers and that was how he acquired her personal information.
She told Vigneri she never touched Lakemper, but admitted "trying to make him feel a certain way. I fell for his charming, complimenting way. We both manipulated each other, but I never blackmailed him," she said.
The attorney closed by asking her if Lakemper's son was "the light of his life." She agreed that he was.
"His son is the light of his life and my daughter is the light of my life. But he took away from her for his," she said just before leaving the stand.
Testimony in the sentencing phase of the Lakemper trial is expected to continue into next week.