Argument preceded gunshots, witness says

Argument preceded gunshots, witness says

April 6th, 2011 by Todd South in News

Malcolm Witherow sits in a Hamilton County Courthouse courtroom Tuesday during the beginning of his trial. Witherow is accused of shooting Melissa Hoover nearly three years ago. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Jurors heard an anguished 911 call Tuesday from the friend of a woman shot at least four times and left to die on the side of Short Tail Springs Road.

Connie Harrold held Melissa Hoover, 31, in her arms as Hoover stopped breathing and bled to death 100 yards from Harrold's home in 2008.

Malcolm Witherow, 49, is charged with first-degree murder in the case and accused of shooting Hoover four times.

During the first day of his trial in Hamilton County Criminal Court, testimony revealed that Hoover had worked with police, who eventually arrested Witherow on drug charges.

Harrold, 50, testified that Witherow told her he would retaliate against Hoover but promised not to do it at her house.

"He said he wasn't ever going to do it at my house, he wouldn't hurt her at my house," she testified.

But on Oct. 10, 2008, she, Hoover and Witherow were sitting in the living room of her 7709 Short Tail Springs Road home when it began to rain, Harrold testified, and she suggested that Hoover go roll up her car windows.

Moments after Hoover went outside, Witherow told Harrold, "I'm sorry. I've got to break my promise. I love you, Connie" and followed Hoover, Harrold said.

She heard Witherow and Hoover arguing, then heard what sounded like four gunshots, she said. Harrold went outside to see Witherow walk to his car, get inside and leave. She looked down the street and saw Hoover lying in her blood, she testified.

She testified, though, that she did not see a gun either before or after the shooting.

Following the shooting, witnesses testified that Witherow drove to Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute and told staff that he needed to be admitted because he "had shot his girlfriend." He told hospital staff that he threw the weapon into the Tennessee River on the way to the institute, according to testimony.

Officials did not admit Witherow and instead called 911. Police arrested him on a charge of first-degree murder.

During his opening statement Tuesday, Hamilton County Assistant District Attorney Brian Finlay told the jury that Witherow felt Hoover had "done him wrong."

Cleveland, Tenn., police Sgt. Dean Beverly testified that Hoover had worn a recording wire twice in 2005 during a drug investigation against Witherow, which resulted in a two-count indictment against him.

But police could not locate Hoover when they were ready to go to trial, and without her as a witness, they had to drop the charges, Beverly testified.

Harrold and her roommate Tyler Baker, 21, who was showering when the shooting occurred, both testified that Witherow had talked about Hoover's work with police against him and that he held a grudge about it.

"I don't think he ever got over it," Baker testified.

Witherow's defense attorney, Justin Woodward, told the jury during his opening statement that details were what mattered and, when the trial concluded, they would still have doubts as to whether his client planned to kill Hoover.

He noted that none of the witnesses actually saw the shooting take place.

The trial resumes this morning in Judge Rebecca Stern's courtroom.