published Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Dozens come to watch Parker trial


by Chloé Morrison

EXTRA FACTS

* At the start of the trial Monday, Judge Jon "Bo" Wood directed jurors not to search the Internet, look at Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, among other rules and restrictions.

* Defendant Sam Parker is also charged with three additional felonies -- computer invasion of privacy, violation of oath as a public officer and making false statements.

* The case has attracted national news attention in the past and now reporters from the television show "48 Hours" are covering the trial and plan to dedicate an hour-long segment to the topic when the trial is complete.

* As many as 25 members of the public came to watch the trial. Some said they knew Mrs. Parker, some said they knew Mr. Parker, and some said they were "just nosey."

LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- Sitting behind his life-long friend in court, Bevin Walker said it is painful to see Sam Parker on trial for murder.

"He's not the type of person (who would kill someone)," Mr. Walker said Monday. "He is a lot of things. He's human, but he's not that type of person."

Mr. Bevin, a Trion, Ga., native who graduated from Trion High School with Mr. Parker, acknowledged that he's one of the few people who doesn't believe the former LaFayette police officer killed his estranged wife, Theresa Parker.

As Mr. Parker's trial on malice murder began Monday in Walker County Superior Court, Mr. Bevin referred to Mr. Parker by his nickname, "Buddy," and watched as his friend stared out the courtroom window during a break in the trial.

Mr. Parker, 53, has been in jail for more than a year and told the Times Free Press in January that he misses hearing birds and feeling grass beneath his feet.

"I can't imagine what he's gone through cooped up in there," Mr. Walker said. "(Sam) is an outdoor person."

OPENING STATEMENTS

More than two years after the 41-year-old Mrs. Parker disappeared, her body has not been found, but District Attorney Leigh Patterson told 15 jurors Monday morning that she will prove Mr. Parker killed his wife early on March 22, 2007, and later disposed of her body.

"Because I represent the state, I carry the burden of proof," Mrs. Patterson said. "I feel confident that I can carry that burden."

Mr. Parker's lawyer, public defender David Dunn, said in his opening statement that the jury will be disappointed because he doesn't know what happened to Mrs. Parker. He doesn't know if she's in Gatlinburg, Mexico or Florida, he said.

"There is not an answer. These things happen," he said, comparing the case to the disappearances of Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earhart.

But Ms. Patterson said she will prove that Mrs. Parker, a loved aunt, respected co-worker and dear friend, isn't simply missing.

"We intend to prove that she was murdered and that Samuel L. Parker is the reason she is no longer with us," Ms. Patterson said in court. "There has been no activity in her bank account or credit cards. She didn't pick up her last paycheck. No calls or anything, just dead silence."

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Ms. Patterson -- the Floyd County district attorney who took over the case after Walker County District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin recused himself -- also revealed that Mr. Parker's friend and former co-worker Harbin "Ben" Chaffin was given immunity in exchange for "truthful" testimony.

Mr. Chaffin was charged with three felonies related to Mrs. Parker's disappearance, including one alleging that he helped Mr. Parker break into Mrs. Parker's e-mail just before she disappeared.

During opening statements, Ms. Patterson was very controlled and deliberate. She told the jury she had divided the witnesses into categories and what each group would prove. She tried to appeal to jurors' emotions by saying that the missing woman was more than a police report.

Mr. Dunn was a little more theatrical in his actions and speech. At times he raised his voice, while lowering it and leaning near to the jurors in other instances. He asked jury members to look at the evidence and not be distracted by the prosecution's "trash to make Sam look bad."

He also told the jurors they shouldn't be swayed by their natural sympathy for Mrs. Parker's family, acknowledging the family members' pain and mentioning his own daughter and how difficult it would be to lose her.

The Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit public defender said that, in the eyes of law enforcement, the community and the media, his client was like the character from the Franz Kafka's book "The Metamorphosis," in which the main character wakes up one day and, through no fault of his own, is seen as a giant cockroach.

"In his 26 years (in law enforcement, Mr. Parker) saved lives," Mr. Dunn said. "He plunged into burning buildings. He saved the life of a child who was choking to death. He has been publicly vilified. (The district attorney and police) expect him to prove his innocence. You are to presume him innocent."

FIRST DAY WITNESSES

Among the first day's witnesses, employees from Lowe's Home Improvement testified that Mrs. Parker bought a washer and dryer on March 21 -- the last day she was seen -- and scheduled it to be delivered the next day. When employees attempted the delivery, they did not find her at home and she was never seen again, the workers testified.

In other testimony, Some of Mr. Parker's co-workers also said he told them that Mrs. Parker wanted part of the inheritance he was going to receive from his father.

Two employees of a Gatlinburg, Tenn., lodge testified that, after Mrs. Parker stayed there the week before she disappeared, Mr. Parker called the lodge. He identified himself as a police officer doing an investigation and requested information about who stayed there. One employee said she eventually faxed Mr. Parker his wife's cabin confirmation.

Ms. Patterson said that Mr. Parker was enraged because he thought Mrs. Parker took a man with her to Gatlinburg.

Many officers who worked with Mr. Parker testified that the defendant hung numerous copies of his wife's receipt for her Gatlinburg trip around the LaFayette Police Department with comments such as "It hasn't been two weeks since my father died and she does this to me" and "With a male subject, but not me."

LaFayette Lt. Kenny Carreathers testified that Mr. Parker once posted a photo of a battered woman along with a joke at the police department, which the lieutenant said was in poor taste.

Mr. Dunn said the photo was an advertisement from the Department of Family and Children's Services.

However, Lt. Carreathers and other officers also testified that Mr. Parker had a good reputation of character.

Some witnesses mentioned Mr. Parker's funny but dark sense of humor. James Pledger with the LaFayette Police Department said it is typical for officers to make light of bad situations.

"(Sam) would make a joke out of anything," sometimes in poor taste, he said. "It's a police thing."

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