Capital murder trial begins

Published 8:25 pm Monday, December 8, 2008

A Dallas County jury will have to decide if Vanessa Gill conspired with her nephew to kill her husband 2 1/2 years ago or if her Gill’s nephew killed the man as part of a drug deal gone sour.

Gill’s capital murder trial began Monday with jury selection, opening remarks, and the prosecution presented three witnesses. Today, the prosecution will continue its case.

During opening statements, assistant District Attorney Shannon Lynch told the jury they would hear from Curtis Cook, Gill’s nephew, about how she set up the incident in March 2006. Lynch said Gill was tired of her husband, Marshall, cheating on her and spending money on other people.

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Marshall Gill was bludgeoned to death in his yard. Prosecutors say Cook confessed to beating the man to death with a baseball bat, but at the urging of Vanessa Gill.

“She didn’t have the bat in her hand, but she might as well have,” Lynch told the jury.

Prosecutors also will present Rachel Cook, Curtis Cook’s wife, as a witness to testify Vanessa Gill promised her money as long as the Cooks kept their mouths shut about the killing, which Lynch called “brutal” and “nasty.”

But defense attorney Julian McPhillips called the prosecution’s case “baloney” and said his client did not urge her nephew to kill her husband. Initially, said McPhillips, Curtis Cook told investigators the incident was the result of a drug deal gone bad and he had to defend himself after Marshall Gill attacked him.

Initially, Cook said nothing implicating Vanessa Gill in the murder, Phillips pointed out. “This is a scheme he dreamed up several days later,” the defense attorney told the jury.

McPhillips told the jury his client saw at least three people flee their property at 6569 Alabama Highway 22 in Valley Grande the night her husband died.

He called his client a “gentle, meek soul.”

The first three witnesses — deputies with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department at that time — testified they responded to a robbery call from the police dispatcher March 26 shortly after midnight.

Former deputy Bill Wright was the first to arrive on the scene from his routine patrol near Valley Grande. As he turned into the driveway of the property, Wright testified he saw a white vehicle sans headlights cut across a hayfield toward the highway. He radioed the occurrence in to dispatch and continued to the Gill home.

Meanwhile, two other deputies picked up the vehicle on Hwy. 22 and tried to get the driver to pull over. Instead, the driver led the deputies on a chase into Selma, where other law enforcement officers picked up the trail. Law enforcement officers pursued the vehicle through Selma, all the way down Broad Street, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the Southside Chevron before the driver flipped back across toward Selma.

One deputy, Troy Stokes, testified the vehicle hit several patrol cars during the chase, including his — four times — before the driver, who was apparently talking on a cell phone, stopped at 1 Union Street in the parking lot of the office of a local law firm.

Wright testified he did not take part in the chase. Instead, he went to the house where he saw Marshall Gill outstretched on the ground about 20 feet from the garage. Gill was bleeding profusely and gurgling.

“In 15 years, this is probably the most brutal thing I’ve ever seen,” Wright told the jury.

Wright rolled Gill over on his back and attempted to clear his throat and called for an ambulance. Vanessa Gill tried to give her husband CPR, but could not because he had a white substance on his lips that burned hers after she put her mouth on his, Wright said. The officer described Vanessa Gill’s demeanor as upset, but not hysterical.

“In retrospect, after 18 years of marriage, I would hope my wife would be more upset if that had happened to me,” the former deputy testified under cross-examination from the defense.