LaFAYETTE, Ga. — The murder trial against Carless LeBron Cross halted abruptly Wednesday, after his brother's outburst and a mysterious phone call.
Cross is accused of burning down his estranged wife's Chickamauga home three years ago, killing her mother, 71-year-old Nevely Lewis. According to an arrest warrant affidavit, the fire started on the back porch at 23 Myers Road on the night of Nov. 12, 2015. Someone had appeared to tamper with the propane tank.
There are a couple of key elements to the investigation. First, according to the affidavit, people close to the family said they heard Cross threaten to burn down the home. Second, Cross' girlfriend allegedly told investigators they were at Parkridge East Hospital at the time the fire started — but hospital records show he didn't check in until hours later.
On Wednesday morning, trial proceedings unraveled. Around 11:30, Patty Cross was testifying against the defendant. She is his sister-in-law, the wife of his brother. She told the jury that she heard Cross threaten to "take matters into his own hands" if his wife, Colleen Cross, didn't comply with requests for a divorce. She said he also told her he was going to burn a car.
On cross examination, Public Defender David Dunn pointed out that the fire and murder charge divided the Cross family.
"There was a lot of bad blood, right?" Dunn asked.
"Yes," Patty Cross said.
"And there is still a huge amount of bad blood, isn't there?" Dunn asked.
"Yes," she said.
Her husband, Bruce Dewayne Cross Jr., entered the courtroom and sat in the back. The prosecution had subpoenaed him as a potential witness against the defendant. He is not allowed to watch the proceedings of the case.
In the middle of Patty Cross' testimony, Lookout Mountain Superior Court Judge Don Thompson called for a lunch break. Assistant District Attorney Beth Evans walked toward Bruce Cross. He shouted, "I ain't testifying for nobody." Evans tried to explain he couldn't sit in during the trial.
Thompson told the jury to return by 1 p.m. But by 1:30, the case still hadn't resumed. Instead, the judge called Bruce Cross forward. He said he had been informed that Bruce Cross made threatening gestures toward his wife. He asked if Bruce Cross understood he was under subpoena to testify in the case.
"Y'all don't need my help sending him where he's going," Bruce Cross said.
Thompson then ordered him to stay away from the witnesses in the case, as well as the jury. If he disobeyed the rules, he could get arrested for contempt of court. Bruce Cross left, and Thompson called for another break. The trial would resume at 2:30 p.m.
By 3:19 p.m., the case was still in recess. The lawyers huddled in front of the judge to discuss something else that had happened outside the courtroom Wednesday. They mentioned a phone call that had been made, some comments that needed to be explored. Thompson then called the jury back into the room.
"It's because of no one's fault," he said. " There have been some developments in the case, as it has progressed. There are continuing issues that need to be looked into."
He then told the jury to go home. He told them to return at 9 a.m. today, when the trial is scheduled to resume.
When a reporter asked him what happened, Dunn said there were "a lot of logistical issues."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at 423-757-6327 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.