Murder trial begins over 2006 beating death

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Trial began Tuesday afternoon in the case of a Lincoln Countyman accused of murder in the 2006 death of another county man.

Michael Leggett, 32, is charged with murder in the Oct. 11,2006, beating death of Jewel Duane Douglas, 36. A second defendant,Robert Culbertson, is also charged with murder and faces trial onMarch 4.

In her opening statement Tuesday, Assistant District AttorneyDiane Jones alluded to several statements Leggett allegedly maderegarding his being angry at Douglas. The reason for Leggett’sanger was not clear from Tuesday’s court action.

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Jones said the state will try to prove Leggett had Culbertsontake him to Douglas’ home, where the death occurred.

Defense attorney Jason Tate of McComb reminded jurors of thestate’s obligation in the case. He also indicated his client didnot commit the crime.

“The state has told you what they think they can prove, and I’dlike to ask each one of you to hold the state to the burden ofproof,” he said. “You’ll find there’s another path that doesn’tlead to Michael Leggett.”

During testimony from Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Capt.Dustin Bairfield, the state submitted into evidence two 911 callsthat came in the night of Douglas’ death, both from family memberDusty Smith. In the recording, Smith said he and some othersarrived at Douglas’ home and found him lying unresponsive on theground and a yellow vehicle fleeing the scene. Smith and the othersfollowed the vehicle while calling 911.

The chase led to Culbertson’s home on Highway 583, wheredeputies arrested Culbertson and Leggett, according to the state’ssecond witness, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Chief DeputyJohnny Hall.

Hall said he, Investigator Byron Catchings and Sheriff SteveRushing went to Douglas’ home at 1831 Douglas Trail while deputieswere sent to break up the disturbance at Culbertson’s residence. Hesaid when he and the other officers arrived, they found severalspots of what they believed to be blood both inside and outside themain mobile home on the property, but Douglas’ family had taken himto the hospital.

One puddle of blood Hall described as “the size of a head” wasfound just east of a camper trailer on Douglas’ property, whereLeggett had been staying.

The night of the attack, Hall said, investigators also collecteda sledgehammer, which the state would later show had a drop ofblood on it; Leggett’s wallet; a paper towel with blood on it; anda $20 bill from a pile of trash close to the large puddle of blood.Hall said the wallet and the paper towel were found in Douglas’truck.

During Hall’s testimony, Jones asked him to produce severalpieces of evidence, ranging from several photos of the crime scene,to the sledgehammer, to the clothes Leggett and Culbertson werewearing the night of the attack. Hall also had two vials of blood,one of which was Culbertson’s and one of which was Leggett’s, aswell as scrapings from under Douglas’ fingernails. There was also aclawhammer and several knives identified but not formallyintroduced as evidence.

The tire tool believed to be the murder weapon was found thenext day after he interviewed Culbertson, Hall said.

Hall said when he interviewed Leggett, he claimed that he hadbeen to Douglas’ residence that night and had argued with Douglas,but then Culbertson had hit him in the head with an object.

Hall said Culbertson told him that he did go with Leggett toDouglas Trail.

“At that time I don’t believe he (Culbertson) knew the victim’sname,” Hall said.

Hall said that the second time he spoke with Culbertson, headmitted to seeing Leggett with the tire tool in his hand, “doingan up and down motion.” At that time, according to Culbertson,Leggett threw the tire tool in the woods, Hall testified.

Later, a crowbar was also taken as evidence from Culbertson’sresidence after two female witnesses said Culbertson had told themhe struck the victim in the head with a crowbar, Hall said.

Also introduced into evidence were photos of a car belonging toCulbertson’s girlfriend. The car had bloody marks on the outsideand inside door handles and the seat on the passenger side, as wellas a kitchen knife on the floorboard of the passenger side.

Hall said the clothing was tested for blood, and the blood onthe hammers and tire tool was sent for testing.

The court recessed for the evening shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesdayafter the state concluded direct questioning of Hall. Court was toresume Wednesday morning with the defense questioning of thesheriff’s investigator.