State rests in capital murder trial of square dancer

Miller County Court Feb. 5, 2016. (photo by Field Walsh)
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Miller County prosecutors rested their case Friday afternoon in the trial of a 67-year-old woman accused of shooting a fellow square dancer to death in 2013.

Virginia Ann Hyatt is accused of firing five shots into Patti Wheelington as she sat on the front porch of her house on South Valley Road drinking coffee and enjoying a cigarette on the morning of Dec. 3, 2013. Members of the Guys and Dolls Square Dance Club who testified for the state this week described Virginia Hyatt as pathologically jealous of other women.

Virginia Hyatt’s estranged husband, James Hyatt, testified earlier this week he left his wife Nov. 29, 2013, because he was afraid his wife was plotting to kill him. James Hyatt testified he and Wheelington had an affair beginning in 2009.

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Texarkana, Ark., police Detective Jason Haak testified he and Detective Paul Nall interrogated Virginia Hyatt Dec. 4, at about 2 a.m., shortly after she was arrested for Wheelington’s murder. Haak said Virginia Hyatt didn’t ask why she was being arrested and acted “nonchalant,” in the interview.

Haak said Virginia Hyatt claimed she was in a drive thru line at McDonald’s at about 8 a.m. on Dec. 3, the time investigators believe Wheelington was gunned down at her home. Virginia Hyatt claimed she drove from there to her mother’s nursing home, where she stayed for about an hour.

Nall told the jury of nine men and three women surveillance footage from McDonald’s shows Virginia Hyatt was actually there at 9:30 a.m. and that she spent about 12 minutes at the nursing home. Texarkana lawyer John Pickett asked Nall if it was surprising that Virginia Hyatt might be confused about the time because she made daily visits to the nursing home.

Voice mail recordings from Wheelington’s cell phone were played Friday as Texarkana, Ark., police Detective Tye Whatley testified. Three messages from Virginia Hyatt left for Wheelington on the afternoon her husband left are unintelligible because Hyatt is hysterical.

In a message left for Wheelington, Virginia Hyatt pleads with Wheelington to leave her husband alone.

At the close of the state’s case Friday, Pickett, who represents Virginia Hyatt along with Texarkana lawyers Damon Young and Bruce Condit, argued that the state had failed to present sufficient evidence to support a conviction and asked that the case be dismissed.

“Motive is not murder,” Pickett argued.

Circuit Judge Randy Wright denied Pickett’s request for a dismissal and the defense began calling witnesses. Sylvia Jordan and Jerry Ward, both square dancers, testified they have never seen Virginia Hyatt act jealously toward anyone, including Wheelington.

Five members of Guys and Dolls Square Dance Club testified Thursday that Virginia Hyatt couldn’t stand it when her husband danced with other women and that she was openly hostile to Wheelington, whom she considered her greatest threat.

Testimony from defense witnesses is scheduled to continue Monday. Virginia Hyatt faces life without the possibility of parole if found guilty of capital murder.

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