Prosecution rests in Blair trial, judge refuses to revoke bond - again

In a repeat of Friday's court proceedings, Monday's session of the E.C. Blair murder trial ended with District Judge Stephen Bristow ruling on whether or not to revoke the defendant's bond. 

District Attorney Dee Peavy and Special Prosecutor David Alex made the request after the jury had been dismissed for the day. They based their request on the testimony of Stacye Pinkston, Blair's niece. 

Pinkston testified after lunch that she saw the defendant this past weekend at a birthday party which was attended by other family members, including his son Aaron Blair, who has been a witness in the case. On Friday, Bristow declined to revoke Blair's bond on charges of witness tampering, but he added an additional requirement to the bond that prevents Blair from having contact with any of the witnesses in the case, including family members, except for his wife and children who are not witnesses.

Blair’s defense attorney, David Wimberley, argued that Blair merely popped in to his grandson’s birthday party for a few minutes and had no contact with any of the witnesses.

After reviewing the court reporter’s records regarding his exact words on Friday about Blair’s expanded bond restrictions, Bristow again ruled in favor of the defense and did not revoke the defendant bond.

“The testimony I saw today didn’t offer enough evidence to indicate witness tampering,” Bristow said. “We didn’t develop any other testimony other than in and out in a minute (at the birthday party), and that kind of contact didn’t fit the description (of Friday’s restrictions). If we had a week or two left of trial…but I think we’re a day away from finishing. I’m not going to revoke his bond.”

In both her morning and afternoon testimony, Pinkston testified that she remembers the police interview differently than the transcription indicates. She talked to Graham police officers on June 11, 2015, regarding the disappearance of her cousin, Leah Martin. The body of the 22-year-old single mother was later discovered in a shallow grave, and Blair is one of three men who were charged in her murder.

“Do you remember telling the police that you thought E.C. could’ve been involved?” Peavy asked the witness.

“I don’t recall saying that,” Pinkston replied.

“Did you say that it could be E.C. or someone who works at the shop?” Peavy pressed, referring to E.C.’s Auto Repair, a shop that Blair owned and where Martin worked.

“Yes, that’s what it says here,” Pinkston said, holding up the transcript.

Pinkston confirmed that in the past two years, she has had interactions with Blair and that he and his wife have tried to convince her of his innocence. However, under Wimberley’s cross-examination, she said that no one tried to get her to change her testimony or to perjure herself.

After a brief testimony from one of Martin’s cousins, the prosecution called Jim Reeves, a retired Graham police investigator, to the stand. Most of his testimony revolved around the surveillance cameras at the auto repair shop, which were not working at the time Martin was allegedly killed in the shop’s office.

Reeves said that on May 31, 2015, two days after Martin was last seen alive by her family and friends, he and Graham Police Department investigator Lt. Jeff Smith met Blair and Pete Clark, who installed the auto repair shop’s security system, at the shop. Clark looked up in the ceiling and said that the only reason the cameras weren’t working was because the system had been turned off.

In another interview at a later date, Reeves said, Clark stated that the power strip the system was plugged into had simply been tripped off by a power surge, possibly by storms that had moved through the area in the days before Martin disappeared, and that all it needed was to be reset.

At 2:40 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2, the state rested its case in the murder trial.

The defense called one witness, Bill Wilkerson, a former employee at Blair’s shop. Wilkerson testified about co-defendant Ross Hellams and Billy Minkley Jr., who had been charged with the murder and pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence and an offer of a plea deal in another case in which he confessed to killing three people in Fort Worth.

He said that he never saw Minkley working at the shop, only that he visited the shop occasionally to work on his vehicles or to talk to Hellams or, sometimes, Blair. He said that Blair didn’t seem to like Minkley and told Wilkerson not to do any work on Minkley’s vehicles.

He also testified that he had observed Hellams being agitated because of Martin.

After Wilkerson’s testimony, the jury was dismissed and Wimberley recalled Smith to the witness stand. He wanted to question Smith to offer proof to the court that Minkley is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood and had arranged for the gang to assault Hellams in the Young County Jail to force him to tell the police what Minkley wanted him to say. However, Smith said that although Hellams was beat up in jail, there was no evidence that Minkley is a member of the gang.

Wimberley requested that the judge allow him to present testimony about what Hellams had alleged about the assault and his statements to police. But, Bristow ruled against the defense and refused to let the testimony be presented in court.

Wimberley is expected to continue calling defense witnesses when court resumes on Tuesday morning.

Story by Carla McKeown/www.breckenridgetexan.com


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