Attorney David Dunn, arguing for a new trial Thursday morning in Walker County Superior Court, said Parker’s conviction hinged, in part, on a prosecution witness’ testimony that Parker told him he shot his wife in the head.
Parker was convicted in September 2009 of killing his estranged wife, Theresa Parker, who went missing in March 2007. Her skeletal remains were found in September 2010. Theresa Parker was a dispatcher at the Walker County 911 Emergency Center.
On Thursday Dunn told judge Jon “Bo” Wood that since there is no evidence of a gunshot wound to Theresa Parker’s head, one of the chief pieces of evidence used to convict him is now moot, and necessitates a retrial.
Sam Parker, during more than two hours of proceedings and witness examinations undertaken by Dunn and Floyd County district attorney Leigh Patterson, remained stoic and silent.
Parker’s brother Kenneth Parker was in attendance in the courtroom. Members of Theresa Parker’s family stayed away from the proceedings, which often turned to statements describing the state of her remains.
Patterson called two witnesses to the stand: Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent Audey Murphy, who was present at and documented the recovery of Theresa Parker’s remains; and Kris Sperry, the chief medical exam-iner for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the state of Georgia, who performed the forensic examination on the remains and declared her death a homicide.
More than 80 photographs depicting the area where Theresa Parker’s bones were found, as well as their place-ment and forensic examination, were entered into the court as evidence by the prosecution. Of particular interest were photographs detailing the state of Theresa Parker’s skull and jawbone, which were taken by Sperry’s team during his examination.
Sperry explained that he noted that the right side of Theresa Parker’s jawbone had distinct fractures that were inconsistent with the high prevalence of evidence of animal scavenging present on the rest of her bones. Though he called the fractures “blunt force trauma,” he could not conclusively say whether they had occurred before or after her death, or if they had in some way contributed to her death.
“It is suspicious, it is concerning, it is completely different from everything else that was found in the skeletal remains, and in the context of her disappearance and finding of her skeletal remains in the way that they were found, I consider it to be extremely concerning,” said Sperry.
Dunn questioned why Sperry had not included the suspicious fractures in a summary of his autopsy report, stat-ing instead that “careful examination of these bony specimens does not reveal any evidence of any ante mortem or postmortem damage ... no ante mortem injuries were identified.”
Sperry answered that because he could not conclusively state the origin of the fractures, they were not factored into his overall statement, though they were certainly documented in the body of the autopsy.
“My ability professionally to reach out to a conclusive level — a level at which I would consider the level I would need to specifically say this injury is directly caused by another person and represents a homicide — to reach to that distance, for me as a forensic pathologist, I can’t do that. And that is why I used the term ‘conclusive.’”
Sperry could not reach a conclusive determination of how Theresa Parker died, but maintains, due in part to circumstantial reasons, that her death was a homicide. He also pointed out that her skeletal remains were incom-plete, and that there may well be evidence pointing toward a cause of death that is unavailable to authorities sim-ply because the bones could not be found.
Dunn pointed out that in his search, Sperry did note a distinct lack of conclusive injury to Theresa Parker’s skull. According to Harbin “Ben” Chaffin, a good friend of Parker and one of the dozens of witnesses called during the September 2010 trial, Parker admitted to having shot his wife in the head.
Patterson claimed that Chaffin was an unreliable witness from the start and that plenty of evidence still remains against Parker. “It’s almost like the defendant is asking for a discount,” said Patterson, “or for a new trial, simply because he was successful in hiding the body from the authorities. And that is not newly discovered evidence that would change anything in the trial because we still don’t know exactly how she was killed...Mr. Chaffin simply re-peated what the defendant told him...I think Mr. Dunn said he was the least credible witness in the trial...The find-ing of her body does not merit that he should have a new trial and we would ask the court to rule accordingly,” she concluded.
“We don’t know how Theresa Parker died,” said Dunn. “But we do know one thing now, beyond question, without a doubt. Theresa Parker did not die from somebody shooting her in the head. That directly refutes all of that evi-dence that the state presented, not just through Harbin Chaffin, but through suggestion, innuendo and speculation throughout the trial. And that is an even stronger reason why this court must grant a new trial.”
Judge Wood assured the counselors that he would take all their evidence and arguments under advisement and that he would give a decision accordingly. It is expected that he will deliberate on the matter some days before an-nouncing whether a new trial will be allowed.