Murder trial begins in 15-year-old Clanton case

Published 5:53 pm Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Prosecutors told jurors Wednesday that a Clanton man charged with murder in the October 1998 death of a Clanton woman killed her by shooting her in the back of the head.

“Jennifer Gail Hampton was someone’s sister, someone’s mother and someone’s daughter,” District Attorney for the 19th Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office Mark Scott told jurors at the trials opening Wednesday. “Her life had value.”

Marty Joe Taylor, 52, who lists an address off County Road 9 in Clanton, is accused of shooting 39-year-old Hampton, who used to live on Second Avenue South, on Oct. 18, 1998.

A passing motorist found Hampton off Hinkle Road, naked from the waist down, with a single gunshot wound to the back of her head.

After detectives conducted an initial investigation when the crime occurred in 1998, and based upon the collected evidence and technology available at the time, the case went cold in 1999 and no arrests were made.

The case was later re-opened in 2011 by former Chilton County Sheriff and current investigator for the 19th Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office Billy Wayne Fulmer.

Updated forensics technology was able to locate Taylor’s DNA profile as a match to DNA taken from Hampton’s body.

Taylor was arrested in 2012 and charged with murder.

Jury selection started Monday for the murder trial that began Wednesday at the Chilton County Courthouse with Circuit Judge John Bush presiding.

Taylor appeared in court wearing a grey and white plaid button down shirt, black jeans and dark colored glasses.

Scott told jurors during opening statements that Taylor’s story changed multiple times regarding events leading up to Hampton’s death.

“There is only one person alive who knows what happened, and that person is sitting right over there,” Scott said, pointing to Taylor who was sitting across the room from the jury. “His [Taylor’s] story is that he noticed his wallet was missing so he pulled a loaded handgun at Hampton and the gun just went off. He is then reminded that Hampton was shot in the back of the head. The evidence tells the real story. Evidence does not lie.”

The prosecution is trying to prove that Taylor did intentionally cause the death of Hampton by shooting her.

Defense attorney David Karn asked jurors to keep an open mind throughout the case in trying to determine if Taylor is “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“I would ask that you listen to the testimony and facts concerning this case,” Karn said. “Keep an open mind and ask yourself: Is he guilty of this crime beyond a reasonable doubt?”

Jurors heard testimony from Keith Maddox with the Clanton Police Department, who was the original investigator working the case.

Maddox testified that he has been employed with the CPD for 30 years and was “on call” the day his agency was contacted by the motorist who found Hampton’s body.

“It was on a Sunday, and I was on call,” Maddox said. “When I responded to the scene it was on Hinkle Road in an open area, and the first thing I observed was a female lying there.”

Prosecutors showed several photographs taken at the scene including several images of Hampton’s body the way police officers found her at the scene.

In the graphic images, Hampton was shown partially clothed, wearing one white cowboy boot but Maddox said officers were never able to locate the other shoe.

Initially, police focused on a suspect who reportedly “bragged” to individuals he had killed Hampton.

The suspect was arrested in 2012 for Hampton’s murder, but officials later released him after authorities had come to believe he was not involved with the murder.

Maddox testified his agency petitioned former Alabama Gov. Fob James and former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman to offer rewards in the case for anyone who might have information regarding the murder.

“Fob James offered a $5,000 reward and then Don Siegelman offered a $10,000 reward and it never generated anything,” Maddox said. “The investigation stopped because we never got any new suspects.”

Jurors also heard from Charles Coburn who testified he was the individual who found Hampton’s body and reported it to the Clanton Police Department.

“I was going out to fly remote control airplanes at a flying field, and I noticed something on Hinkle Road,” Coburn said. “I pulled my truck down the road–stopped, the road is different than what it was that day. I saw a body and hollered to see if anyone was down there, but no one responded. I then left and went to the police station because I didn’t have a phone with me at the time. I then went back to the scene to show the police what I had found.”

Dr. James Lauridson, an expert in forensic pathology, performed the autopsy on Hampton’s body.

Lauridson walked jurors through the process of an autopsy and explained to jurors the details of the head trauma on Hampton’s body.

“The gunshot wound was almost front and center to the back of her head,” Lauridson said.

Lauridson testified that he ruled Hampton’s cause of death as a gunshot wound to the back of her head and the manner of her death was ruled a homicide.

Karn asked Lauridson if he was able to determine from the autopsy how close the barrel of the gun was from the wound on Hampton’s body.

Lauridson said he was unable to describe the exact distance but indicated it was “unlikely that the gun was more than 10 feet away.”

Although Lauridson testified there was evidence from Hampton’s body to show there was sexual activity leading up to her death, there was no evidence of a sexual assault.

“I believe you can have an assault and not have injuries,” Lauridson said.

Fulmer also testified Wednesday telling jurors of his interviews with Taylor and how his stories were not consistent.

“He [Taylor] admitted to having sex with Hampton but he originally said it was 10 months prior to her death,” Fulmer said. “The story then changed to him saying that him and [the original suspect] picked Hampton up, Marty Joe Taylor had sex with her and it was [the original suspect] who shot her.”

Fulmer said Taylor’s story then shifted once again to Taylor claiming he pointed a loaded gun at Hampton after noticing his wallet went missing and the gun “accidentally” went off.

Fulmer said through the investigation, it was determined McCary was not a suspect and the genetic traits reported by the FBI from the vaginal swabs taken from Hampton’s body matched Taylor’s DNA profile.

The trial is expected to continue on Thursday at the Chilton County Courthouse.