First testimony heard in assault case

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 28, 2001

Utilizing graphic evidence and at times tearful testimony,prosecutors Wednesday pursued a circumstantial case against twoColumbus women accused of sexually assaulting a third woman at aBrookhaven motel in March 2000.

Under defense questioning, though, witnesses acknowledged theyhad no first-hand information on how the victim’s injuries weresustained or who could have inflicted them.

“I’ve got a good idea,” said the victim’s mother as shetestified against the defendants.

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Tammy Vance, 32, and Leigh Stubbs, 21, both of 1306 Fourth Ave.North, Columbus, are accused of aggravated assault, unlawfulpossession of morphine, conspiracy to possess morphine and grandlarceny. They are charged in connection with a series of eventsthat happened around March 6, 2000.

According to witnesses, the two defendants and the victim, anunindicted co-conspirator, left a Columbus chemical dependencytreatment center and headed for Vance’s mother’s home in Louisiana.Drinking was involved, but there was conflicting testimony aboutwho was driving Stubbs’ truck during the trip.

The group stopped at the Summit home of James “Dickie” Ervin,the victim’s boyfriend, and allegedly stole a black bag containing$302 and his prescribed morphine tablets and other medication. Thevictim had been at the treatment center for a morphine problem, hermother said.

After leaving the home a little before 8 p.m., the group gotlost and wound up at a Brookhaven motel. The next afternoon, whenthe victim was not breathing, the defendants called the motel’sfront desk to request help with a 911 call.

Brookhaven Police Det. Nolan Jones said the incident wasreported and first treated as a drug overdose. However, afterinitial treatment to stabilize the victim’s condition, it wassuspected the girl had been sexually assaulted.

Describing injuries, the victim’s mother said her daughter’sbreasts were swollen and her genitals had been gouged “like a wildanimal had attacked her.”

Jurors were shown a medical examination video of the daughter’sinjuries. A bite mark expert is expected to testify today aboutinjuries to the hip and thigh area.

The victim, 21, was comatose for two weeks and on kidneydialysis for a month, her mother said.

“We really weren’t given much encouragement the first few days,”said the mother, frequently wiping away tears during hertestimony.

Her daughter survived, but now has memory loss, slow readingskills, unclear writing, seizures and a leg injury, the mothersaid. She also recited a list of medications, some at twice thenormal dosage, her daughter must take.

Calling other treatment center clients and Ervin family members,prosecutors began narrowing the time frame of when the assaultcould have happened. Witnesses said the victim appeared fine and inno discomfort when she was in their presence either at the centeror in Summit.

“In my mind, the only place this could have happened was betweenSummit, Miss., and Brookhaven, Miss.,” Jones said, citinginvestigation interviews with witnesses.

Defense questions suggested the victim had built up a toleranceto morphine and, if under its influence, would not show any signsof pain. Attorneys also raised the possibility the wounds wereself-inflicted with a beer bottle.

Under cross examination, Jones said in-person interviews werenot conducted with Columbus treatment center personnel and dentalimpressions were only obtained from Vance, Stubbs, Ervin and hisbrother, who was at home during the Summit visit.

Ken McNees, Vance’s attorney, questioned whether theinvestigation was “grasping” at all logical conclusions. Hedescribed Jones’ assertions about the events as “dogmatism” andsuggested there was pressure to get a suspect in the “verysensitive and sensational crime.”

“It may be, potentially, one of the nastiest crimes in LincolnCounty at the time,” McNees said.

Jones denied the attorney’s contentions.

A large part of Wednesday’s testimony involved a big toolboxthat was in the back of Stubbs’ truck. Prosecutors believe thevictim was put in the box and a latch caused a head injury,although a crime lab examination yielded no other physicalevidence.

McNees questioned how the victim, who is about 63 inches tall,could have been put in the toolbox, which measures almost 56 incheslong. Jones said it was possible.

“We put a much larger girl in the toolbox and shut the lid overher,” Jones said.

The toolbox was not present in the courtroom until Judge MikeSmith became irritated over repeated defense questions about theexterior and interior surfaces of the toolbox and otheraspects.

“Let’s get the toolbox up here and you can ask the witnessanything you want to about the toolbox,” Smith said in calling a10-minute recess.

The trial resumed with more defense questions about the toolboxand the thoroughness of the police investigation.

Later, another treatment center client, Ervin’s mother Helen andJames Ervin testified about the victim’s condition when she wasaround them during the day in question. All said she appeared fine,although James Ervin acknowledged the possibility of the defense’smorphine tolerance theory.

District Attorney Dunn Lampton said the prosecution’s case couldrest today. The defense’s case is expected to take a day.