Triple murder trial underway here - The Randolph Leader: News

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Triple murder trial underway here

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Posted: Wednesday, June 7, 2006 12:00 am

Tommy Alan Cook, 27, is on trial for his life in a gruesome triple murder trial the prosecution contends occurred because the defendant wanted money and drugs.

Fifth Judicial District Attorney E. Paul Jones and Chief Deputy Damon Lewis contend the two men and a woman were shot to death, then their bodies burned to cover up the crime.

Sixteen jurors, including four alternates, saw grisly video Monday of what remained after the fire as pathologist Joseph Embry, retired from the Department of Forensic Sciences, explained the condition of the extremely burned bodies. Two of the victims had bullets in their brains, and all three had three bullets or fragments in their bodies. He believed all three were dead before they burned, he said. Two of them required DNA comparison to identify them.

The manufactured home of Donnie Coy Henderson, 43, at a dead-end road in the Prospect community, was known as a place where you could buy drugs. Several witnesses testified they went to his house for barbecues, to visit, to buy drugs and to work on his property, and he would pay them in drugs or alcohol. Witnesses have said neither of the other two victims, Gary Lee "Kemo" for "Kemosabe" White, 53, of Woodland or Janice Knight, 45, of Roanoke, sold drugs. Knight and Henderson dated, and she was often at the home.

Defense attorneys Charles Gillenwaters and Joe Ficquette are contending due to the timeline of when Cook was seen and when firefighters arrived he did not have time to kill the three and set the fire. They also have asked many questions about a methamphetamine laboratory and how hot the fire had to get to warp the metal support of the home.

Those testifying said Henderson never sold meth or cocaine but did sell marijuana and pain killers, such as Lortab. White's son, Shane, testified Henderson would have never had anything to do with meth because it was too hot and would bring problems.

"He was just a good guy. He drank beer every day. He had been in the army in Vietnam and it messed with his head a little bit," Shane White said. There was no meth lab there, he said.

John Traylor testified he stopped by the morning of the fire to get some building materials since Henderson dealt in business materials. Henderson wasn't there, but Cook was, Traylor said. Cook asked if he had any drugs or money and Traylor said he didn't.

Traylor said when he returned about 3:30 or 3:45 p.m. he pulled up behind Cook's truck, and Cook said he had been waiting all day. As he was leaving he met Gary Lee White coming in.

The trial began with jury selection May 30, and the prosecution continued presenting its case through a state holiday Monday but broke for election day Tuesday. Testimony will continue Wednesday morning.

Harold Fink Jr., owner of Goalpost Pawn in Anniston, testified he noticed Cook sitting in his vehicle for about 35 minutes waiting for the store to open. When the store opened he pawned a Remington rifle and Heritage pistol to buy a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol. The store's surveillance system caught the transaction on video. The next day Cook returned to redeem the rifle and bought a gold chain and cross, costing about $270. He had a pretty good bit of money, Fink said.

Mike Haynes of the state fire marshal's office testified he was sick the night of the fire but went to the scene the next day. Initially it was a death investigation but it quickly turned into a homicide investigation when it was learned the victims were killed.

They created a grid numbering where all shell casings and projectiles were found when the burned material was sifted. They sifted for two days, and then Friday, Feb. 14, they executed a search warrant at the defendant's residence. Among the items recovered were the Glock and boxes of ammunition.

Under cross-examination Haynes said he did not see any evidence of an explosion at the Henderson residence or of a meth lab. Trailers burn faster due to their construction, he said, which are not the same building and fire codes of houses. He has seen a trailer burn in 14 minutes, he said.

Sheree Wells, a forensic arson specialist with the Department of Forensic Sciences testified to the process of determining a liquid residue containing gasoline was present on the emergency brake pedal and other items in Cook's truck, which could not have been there simply by walking through gasoline. Clothes in his clothes dryer indicated the presence of gasoline, she said.

Joe Saloom, formerly of the DFS specializing in firearms and tool marks examination, testified some of the shell casings found at the burned residence matched bullets he test fired through the Glock purchased at the pawn shop and found in Cooks' residence.

Some shell casings were so damaged no identification could be made. He explained how the pistol works and how the marks can identify a bullet fired by that gun. He testified the bullets or fragments found in Henderson were consistent with a Glock 9mm but he could not say they came from the defendant's 9mm.

He testified the pieces recovered from Knight's body could not be positively identified as being from the Glock in evidence. However, casings or cartridges found were fired from the Glock in evidence. He methodically went through them saying either they were consistent with a Glock or came from the Glock in evidence.

Richard Earnest, an independent ballistics expert from Texas, validated Saloom's findings. While the fire did obscure some markings all of the cartridge cases had marks left, he said.

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