Testimony continues in square dance murder


The estranged husband of a woman accused of capital murder in the death of a fellow square dancer testified Wednesday he was afraid of his wife of 40 years.

Virginia Ann Hyatt faces life without the possibility of parole if convicted of shooting 59-year-old Patricia Wheelington on the porch of her Texarkana, Ark., home Dec. 3, 2013. Among the witnesses to testify on the second day of testimony in her capital murder trial Wednesday was Virginia Hyatt’s husband, James Hyatt.

“They were afraid for my life,” James Hyatt said of his family as he testified Wednesday afternoon under questioning from Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Black.

James Hyatt testified Wednesday afternoon that he packed a few belongings in a hurry and began driving to Florida before calling his wife and telling her, “I was never coming back,” about four days before Patricia Wheelington was shot five times on the porch of her home on South Valley Road in Texarkana, Ark. James Hyatt said Wheelington, with whom he did have an affair, planned to join him in Florida a few weeks after he filed for divorce in December 2013.

But Wheelington never got the chance. Arkansas State Crime Lab Deputy Medical Examiner Steven Erickson testified Wednesday that Wheelington was shot five times with a .38 caliber weapon. Erickson said three of the gunshot wounds were fatal wounds that tore through Wheelington’s lungs and heart, leaving her only seconds to try and reach the door of her home.

Under direct examination from Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black, Erickson said the prosecution’s theory that Wheelington was first shot as she sat in a chair on her porch was plausible. Wheelington was discovered dead on her porch by friends who were worried because she wasn’t answering her phone Dec. 3, 2013.

James Hyatt told the jury he hired a lawyer and snuck out of town after his sisters told him Virginia Hyatt had suggested he might take his own life, prompting their fear she was planning to kill him.
“Virginia Ann possesses an extremely jealous nature,” James Hyatt said under direct examination by Chief Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Black. “She didn’t have any trouble showing it. If I ignored her she’d go to that other person and insult them.”

James Hyatt said he was only allowed to square dance with women his wife didn’t find threatening.
Defense attorney Bruce Condit of Texarkana asked James Hyatt if he thought it strange his wife of 40 years would be distraught and looking for him after he “deserted her.”

Texarkana attorney Damon Young and Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black questioned a state crime lab firearms expert at length about tests done on Virginia Hyatt’s clothing which tested positively for gunshot residue. Firearms and tool mark examiner Chantel Taylor told the jury of nine men and three women the residue found on a maroon shirt collected from Hyatt’s room was contaminated with metals associated with firearms but that the presence of the material didn’t mean Hyatt necessarily fired a gun.

Testimony is scheduled to continue Thursday at the Miller County courthouse in Texarkana. Prosecutors previously announced they are not seeking the death penalty.

Continue to read TXK Today for updates on the trial.

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