“The jury verdict was swift, and the court’s sentence was appropriately harsh.”
-Assistant District Attorney Amanda Bolin
It was the 13th of July 2011. A Wednesday. Twenty seven year old Laura Ackerson, a resident of Kinston, North Carolina, United States, believed her luck was finally changing. She had faced a challenging custody battle with her ex boyfriend, Grant Hayes, in relation to their two children and the custody dispute had been a contentious and difficult one which resulted in Laura having access to her children on weekends only.
For slightly over a year, Laura had the children on weekends and Grant had them during the week. That decision was on foot of a consent order made at the Lenoir County District Court on the 29th of June 2010. It was a temporary arrangement and both Laura and Grant had to undergo psychological evaluation by Dr Ginger Calloway, a forensic psychologist. Grant had claimed in Court that Laura was mentally unstable and Laura accused Grant of being a substance abuser. Dr Calloway evaluated them and issued a report recommending that Grant and Laura share legal and physical custody of the children.
Laura had just received the results of that report and she was confident that the Court would at least split custody of the boys. Laura wanted to have the boys with her as much as she could. She had worked hard to try to get them back and she recently started two new graphic design businesses so that she could support them. When she and Grant met, in March 2007, things were good at first but they never married and their relationship was short lived. As soon as the relationship ended the custody dispute began and Grant went on to marry another woman in 2010. He married Amanda Hayes and they moved into an apartment in Raleigh.
Laura and Amanda didn't get on as a result of the custody dispute but Laura believed that things were starting to work out for her. And on the 12th of July 2011, she received an email from Grant which seemed to confirm her belief. Grant emailed Laura and asked her if she would like to see the boys for a mid week visit. The very next day, the 13th of July, Laura left her home in Kinston and began the journey to Raleigh in her car. She sent a text message to Grant at 4.12pm:
“I'm leaving the Wilson area now. I'll call when I get past the traffic. Where will you be in an hour or so?”
She called him at 4.59pm when she was beside the Crabtree Valley mall.
That night, Laura missed a business call with her business partner, Chevon Mathes. They had scheduled a call for 9pm but there was no call from Laura.
Over the next few days, nobody saw or heard from Laura and she was reported missing on the 18th of July. Police quickly established that she was due to meet Grant and the boys at his apartment on the 13th. They knew that because Laura had told Chevon that she was going there that day.
Police discovered that Laura had expressed concerns about her safety to her attorney a few months before she was last seen. Police went to Grant's apartment to investigate on the 20th of July. When they arrived at the apartment, there was a strong smell of bleach and several bleached patches on the flooring. There were several items missing from the apartment that made them fear for Laura's safety. Items such as the shower curtain, the vacuum cleaner and several rugs had been removed from the apartment. They also found lyrics to a song entitled, “Man Killer.” The lyrics concerned the first-person killing of a woman by making her bleed and by strangulation.
Police found a note purportedly signed by Laura. The note stated that she agreed to give up custody of the boys in exchange for US$25,000. But police did not believe that Laura would give up custody of the boys after fighting so hard for them. Police investigated the movements of Grant and Amanda in the days that followed Laura's visit to Raleigh.
They discovered that in the early hours of the 14th of July, Grant went to a Wal-Mart and a Target in Raleigh. Between the two stores, he bought goggles, trash bags, a reciprocating saw, blades, plastic sheeting, tarp, gloves, bleach, tape, and a lint roller. That same morning, the 14th, Amanda called her daughter Sha to ask her to look after the children. Sha took them to a play center and was there for most of the day.
Two days later, the 16th, Grant bought ice and coolers and rented a U-Haul trailer. He informed the rental company that he was going to Texas. Amanda told Sha she was going to Texas to see her sister, Karen Berry. Grant, Amanda and the children drove to Texas and arrived in the early morning hours of the 18th of July.
The next day, the 19th, Grant bought gloves and bottles of acid at a Home Deport in Texas. Police went to Texas and spoke to Karen. Karen lived near a creek that was used for fishing and she told police that on the night of the 19th of July, Grant and Amanda asked if they could borrow her boat. They then took it out into the creek. Police obtained some surveillance footage from the area and the footage showed Amanda dumping some of the bottles of acid close to Karen's home.
The creek was searched and decomposed and dismembered body parts were found. It was confirmed that the body parts were those of Laura Ackerson. The official cause of death was determined as “homicide by undetermined means” or “undetermined homicidal violence.”
Grant and Amanda Hayes, were each charged with first-degree murder on the 25th of July 2011, for the death of Laura Ackerson.
It was the Prosecution's case that both Amanda and Grant killed Laura and then dismembered her in Raleigh and disposed of her body in Texas. They believed they both used a power saw to cut up Laura's body and then used coolers to store the body parts in while they drove to Texas.
The had separate Trials. Grant pleaded not guilty. The Prosecution described when and where Laura was last seen, Grant's apartment with the missing items, the smell of bleach and his movements and actions in the days that followed July 13th to the Jury. They also called Pablo Trinidad to give evidence. Pablo testified that in July 2011, he was being held in the Wake County Detention Center on federal charges while Grant was being held in the same location for the murder charge. Pablo said that they were housed in the same area. According to Pablo, Grant's case was on TV and some of the other inmates tried to attack him. Pablo protected him. Grant thanked him and told him that he called Laura and “lured” her to his apartment under the “false pretenses” of settling the custody dispute. When Laura was inside the apartment, with the help of Amanda, he “subdued” her and strangled her. When she was dead he drove out of State to dispose of her body.
Grant was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
At Amanda's Trial , it was the Prosecution's case that Amanda was resentful of and angry at Laura due to the custody dispute and wanted her out of the way so that she could live with Grant and the children. Jurors in the case were shown surveillance photos of Amanda dumping four cartons, they contained seven unopened one-gallon bottles of muriatic acid, at the end of a cul-de-sac near her sister's home.
Surveillance Footage of Amanda Hayes
It was the Defense's case that Amanda did not know about Laura's death until after Grant killed her. She helped him cover it up because she was afraid of Grant as he threatened to kill her if she didn't help him dispose of the body. It was their case that Grant was a sociopath and he had lied to her and manipulated her.
Amanda was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 13-16 years in prison.
After her conviction, she was indicted by a Texas Grand Jury on a charge of illegally disposing a body.
At that Trial, the Court heard how Amanda had attempted to dissolve Laura’s remains with acid at Karen’s house before dumping her body parts in a creek full of alligators.
"The couple first attempted to use muriatic acid to destroy Laura's body. When that didn't work, they took a boat onto Oyster Creek and dumped Laura's body parts into the water with hopes that alligators would eat her remains."
Amanda was convicted of tampering with evidence and given an extra 20 years behind bars in Texas. The additional 20 year sentence will be served consecutively with her North Carolina sentence.
Grant and Amanda have since divorced.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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