Slain square dancer’s friends testify in capital murder trial

Virginia Ann Hyatt in court on Tuesday (Photo by Field Walsh)
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Members of the Guys and Dolls Square Dancing Club in Texarkana testified Wednesday that capital murder defendant Virginia Hyatt was an intensely jealous woman.

Virginia Ann Hyatt, 67, is accused of shooting Patricia “Patti” Wheelington, 59, five times with a .38 caliber pistol as she sat sipping coffee and smoking a cigarette on the front porch of her home Dec. 3, 2013, on South Valley Road in Texarkana, Ark.

“Patti was very nice. She was easy going, always smiling, friendly with everyone,” testified Reese Baker. “Virginia would sit by herself. If James (Hyatt) was dancing with someone else, she’d be sulking. You could tell she was very jealous. She didn’t try to hide it.”

James Hyatt testified Tuesday that life with his wife had become unbearable. He said the two hadn’t had sex in 10 years, slept in separate bedrooms and that he locked his door at night. James Hyatt said he decided to leave after 40 years of marriage when his sisters came to him with fear Virginia Hyatt was plotting to kill him. James Hyatt testified he instructed his lawyer to serve his wife with divorce papers after he’d left town Nov. 29, 2013, the day after Thanksgiving, and that he waited to call and tell his wife he was gone until he had gotten miles away from Texarkana. James Hyatt admitted he was having an affair with Wheelington but denied he was leaving he wife because of it.

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Phyllis Nabors testified Virginia Hyatt called her after James Hyatt called and told her it was over.

“Virginia was hysterical when she called. She said he’s taken his best clothes,” Nabors said. “She kept saying he’s gone with Patti, he’s gone with Patti.”

Wheelington was in New Orleans with a female friend the weekend after Thanksgiving 2013, according to witnesses.

Nabors and Baker both testified that Virginia Hyatt was determined to find James Hyatt and Wheelington. She repeatedly drove by Wheelington’s home and area motels, looking for their cars.

Barbara Ricketts told the jury of nine men and three women that Wheelington was shaken by Virginia Hyatt’s insistence that she was the cause of the end of her marriage and described a conversation she had with Wheelington at the square dance hall the evening before she was murdered.

“Patti was just pale. She was so upset she couldn’t start the class. She was just shaking. She told me that Virginia had come to her house that morning, she was throwing a fit, ranting and raving, screaming at Patti on her front porch,” Ricketts said. “Patti said, ‘Virginia has got me freaked out.’”

Ricketts and other witnesses testified Virginia Hyatt would literally pull women dancing with her husband from the dance floor and “run them off,” if they were single. Nabors said Virginia Hyatt was “staring a hole through Patti,” minutes before a square dance class was supposed to begin the evening of Dec. 2, 2013. Nabors and Virginia Hyatt left the dance hall and played a session of bingo. But Virginia Hyatt went back to the dance hall afterward and confronted Wheelington again, throwing one of her husband’s shirts at her.

The following morning, Wheelington was murdered.

An Arkansas State Crime Lab analyst testified earlier in the week that gunshot residue was found on a shirt taken from Virginia Hyatt’s bedroom though a murder weapon conclusively linked to the bullets that killed Wheelington hasn’t been identified.

Ricketts and Nabors testified they went to Wheelington’s house late on the afternoon of Dec. 3, 2013, because their friend, Ken Caldwell, was extremely concerned about her. Wheelington had been talking to Caldwell at about 8 a.m. when she told him Virginia Hyatt was approaching her home. Wheelington never answered her phone again.

“She (Ricketts) turned around and said, ‘Patti’s dead,’” Nabors testified. “I picked her arm up. It was heavy. She was so bloated, so cold, you could tell she’d been dead for a long time.”

But the jury won’t hear what Caldwell told his friends and police because he died shortly after Wheelington’s murder. Circuit Judge Randy Wright ruled Caldwell’s account inadmissible because he isn’t available to testify.

Nabors said Virginia Hyatt came to her home at approximately 10 a.m. the morning of Wheelington’s death.

“She was grinning from ear to ear,” Nabors said.

Testimony is expected to continue Friday morning at the Miller County courthouse. Virginia Hyatt faces life without parole if convicted of capital murder.

Continue to visit TXK Today for daily updates on the trial.

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