Editor’s Note: This article contains strong language that may not be suitable for younger audiences. Reader discretion is advised.
NEWTON— Defendant William Howard Lail III testified in Catawba County Superior Court on Wednesday and Thursday, recalling Jaydon Ray Sandlin’s death and admitting to lying to investigators on multiple occasions.
While Lail had the option not to testify in his own trial because of his Fifth Amendment rights, he decided to take the stand after conferring with his attorneys.
Lail is charged with one count of first-degree murder and four counts of felony child abuse. He does not face the death penalty.
He is accused of killing Jaydon, 1, and physically abusing both Jaydon and his older sister Kylie Madison Sandlin at a residence in Long View. Kylie was 3 at the time of Lail’s arrest.
Kylie and Jaydon were the children of Lail’s now ex-girlfriend, Whitney Weathers.
Weathers pleaded guilty to several felony counts of child abuse earlier this year.
On May 3, 2013, first responders arrived to a duplex in Long View to find Jaydon dead from an apparent drowning and covered in burns and bruises.
Kylie also was covered in burns and bruises.
Lail was arrested later that evening.
On Wednesday, he first answered questions from his attorney Victoria Jayne about how he met Weathers and her children, and he described to the jury his relationships with all three of them and the major events that led up to Jaydon's May 3 death.
Lail first met Weathers at a strip club in June 2012, and after a week or two of spending time together, Lail saw Weathers’ Facebook profile revealing she had children.
Pretty soon, Lail, Weathers, Kylie and Jaydon moved into a duplex in Conover.
He said that was when he first saw Weathers mistreat Kylie.
“I came home one day and could hear Kylie crying outside,” he said.
When he went inside, he described seeing Kylie as strapped in her car seat, facing the corner.
Soon, Kylie kicked at the wall and flipped her car seat over, which Weathers responded to by hitting Kylie repeatedly with a pillow, Lail added.
“We’d fight all the time about her mistreating the kids,” he said.
Lail testified to watching Weathers hit the children with plastic clothes hangers, a belt, her hand and the stick used to open the blinds.
He said Weathers did not like taking care of the children, adding it was “like a burden,” and she would get upset easily.
“I remember specifically one time she put her hand over Jaydon’s mouth until he stopped crying,” Lail said.
While he did admit to disciplining the children with his hand, belt and sometimes a clothes hanger, Weathers administered the majority of the punishment, he testified.
In addition to hitting the children, Lail said Jaydon and Kylie would sometimes be left at home alone in their car seats or in the closet if his and Weathers’ work schedules overlapped.
However in March 2013, Lail lost his job at Synthetics Finishing in Long View after an injury, and other than working for Weathers’ stepdad briefly, he was unemployed and left alone with the children often.
“I’m not trying to make excuses,” Lail said on multiple occasions when talking about his decision not to stop Weathers from mistreating the children and his decision not to seek professional medical care for the kids after they were burned.
A week and a half prior to Jaydon’s death, Lail said Jaydon and Kylie were scalded by the running shower water after he left them alone in the tub to take the trash out.
“I didn’t realize the extent of the injuries,” Lail said, referring to when he returned inside to find Jaydon in the tub crying and Kylie at the door saying she had a “boo-boo.”
Soon, he noticed the children’s skin was peeling and starting to blister.
“When I realized the extent of the injuries, I apologized to the kids,” he said. “It was my fault. I left them alone.”
Weathers was not home at the time of the incident. When she came home, Lail said he told her what happened.
“She didn’t want to go to the hospital because she was in an ongoing custody battle with her ex-husband, and she was afraid of social services,” he added.
Maggie Ervin, Kylie and Jaydon’s grandmother, testified last week to making at least six or seven phone calls to social services in the months leading up to Jaydon’s death, beginning in fall 2012.
Social services investigated and decided to leave the children in the home.
Lail said he went to CVS Pharmacy to purchase Motrin, Tylenol, bandages and aloe lotion to treat the burns since Weathers did not want to take the children to the hospital.
To help soothe their pain, he testified he would let Kylie and Jaydon sit in the tub with lukewarm water and when he did so, Jaydon wouldn’t cry as much.
May 3, 2013
On the day of his death, Lail said Jaydon wasn’t very active and wouldn’t eat much, despite saying Jaydon was walking and eating the night before.
That morning, Lail woke up to take a trip to the methadone clinic, taking Weathers and Kylie with him and leaving Jaydon asleep on the loveseat in the living room.
Lail said he had an addiction problem since he was about 17 years old and had sought help at the McLeod Center.
After leaving the clinic, they stopped at Bojangles and Food Lion before returning home to Jaydon.
When it was time to take Weathers to work, Lail said they left Jaydon and Kylie at home alone.
When he returned, he spent time outside working on his car, came in and noticed the children had dirty diapers.
It wasn’t unusual for him to wash the kids off in the bath after they soiled a diaper, he said, so he washed off their bottoms, filled the tub and stuffed the drain with a T-shirt.
“I didn’t use soap that day,” he said, admitting the story he told investigators in his post-arrest interview about Jaydon getting soap in his eye was false.
After taking Kylie out of the tub and drying her hair, he left Jaydon in the tub and went outside.
Some time passed, Lail couldn’t remember how much, and he made a few phone calls using an app on the computer because his cellphone did not work.
“I came in looking for him and realized he was still in the tub,” Lail said, crying.
When he walked into the bathroom, he saw Jaydon lying face-up.
“It was like he was floating,” he said, describing Jaydon’s face as partially underwater, with his eyes closed. “I took him out and tried to do CPR.”
When he realized CPR wasn’t working, he said he ran to the computer and attempted to call 911, and when that didn’t work, he called Weathers at work and told her to call 911 and to come home before running next door to borrow the neighbor’s phone.
“I went outside and screamed for help,” Lail said. “I was panicking.”
In the 911 call, which was played for the jury, Lail was frantic as he begged the operator to send help and said, “He isn’t breathing.”
Lail said he continued to administer CPR until EMS arrived.
“I didn’t know if I was doing it right,” he added. “I didn’t want to accept I was too late.”
After learning Jaydon was dead from an officer, Lail began to experience chest pains and shortness of breath.
“Everything happened so fast,” he said. “Best way I can describe it as is surreal.”
Once he was released from Frye Regional Medical Center after receiving some medication, he was questioned by two State Bureau of Investigation agents before being taken to Long View Police Department to be interviewed again.
There, he was arrested and charged.
“I have a very hard time, even today, it's hard for me to picture in my mind how I found him,” Lail said, facing the jury. “What happened could’ve been avoided, and I wasn’t paying attention.”
Wednesday’s cross examination
In cross examination by Assistant District Attorney Michael Van Buren, he asked Lail to explain why he lied to investigators multiple times at the scene of the incident and during his four-hour post-arrest interview. “I was ashamed of what happened,” he said.
Van Buren proceeded to go through each instance where Lail didn’t tell investigators the truth and asked him if he remembered lying and why.
While talking about using methadone, Lail testified to have never failing a drug test at the center, other than the first one, which is required in order to be accepted to the program.
Van Buren had documentation that proved otherwise.
Lail became agitated and said, again, he’s never failed a drug test at the McLeod Center, despite Van Buren obtaining the document from Lail’s attorneys.
“There’s more than one William Lail in Hickory,” Lail said.
Van Buren then asked him why he said the terms, “hand to God,” and “swear to God,” before statements he eventually admitted were lies.
“Don’t you take swearing to God seriously?” he asked. “You did that today before taking the stand didn’t you?”
Lail replied he did take it seriously.
“I didn’t back then,” he said. “I pray to God every day now.”
In his post-arrest interview, Lail didn’t tell the agents much about Weathers’ abusive actions with the children.
When asked why he didn’t, he told Van Buren he wanted to protect Weathers at the time and that decision was a mistake.
“Why didn’t you stop her from hurting the children,” Van Buren asked. “Is it because they weren’t your kids? Like you told the agents?”
Lail replied yes.
“You were selfish, weren’t you Mr. Lail?” Van Buren said.
Lail said he was.
As for the large bruise on Jaydon’s forehead, Lail testified he does not remember the injury being there at the time of Jaydon’s death.
Before court adjourned for the day, Van Buren presented two new pieces of video evidence to the jury, taken from Lail’s cellphone.
In the first video, Lail is behind the camera and Kylie is on the floor.
“Say, f------ b----,” Lail said, with Kylie repeating him. “Say, f------ c---.”
Kylie repeated him again while Lail laughed.
“That was not appropriate,” he admitted in court.
The second video, which was not played for the jury, depicted Lail and a friend shooting guns after Lail said, “This is why you don’t f--- with me and Rusty.”
“I wasn’t intentionally threatening anyone,” he testified.
Thursday’s cross examination
On Thursday, during the second part of Van Buren’s cross examination of Lail, Van Buren asked questions about his statement to Kari Whisnant on May 6.
Whisnant was a social worker with the Catawba County Department of Human Services at the time of Jaydon’s death, and was first assigned to Kylie’s case when she was taken to Frye Regional Medical Center on May 3.
In this interview, he told Whisnant what happened May 3, along with how he and Weathers treated the children.
Although Lail testified Wednesday he did not lay the children on the bed to spank them, only Weathers did, he told Whisnant on May 6 that was one of the ways he would discipline the children.
“I don’t recall doing that,” Lail said Thursday.
Van Buren pointed out that on the day of Jaydon’s death, Lail barely made any statements to police about Weathers’ treatment of the children.
“You started to implicate Whitney when things got turned around on you, didn’t you?” Van Buren asked.
Lail responded, saying he only began to implicate Weathers when social services asked him if Kylie should go back to her mother.
When asked why he didn’t tell law enforcement officers about Weathers’ treatment of the children to begin with, Lail reiterated he wanted to protect Weathers in the beginning.
Moving on, Van Buren decided to ask Lail about the burns on Jaydon and Kylie again.
“If the shower head was on when you came back inside, and Jaydon was standing under the water, how come he doesn’t have any burns on his back and chest?” he asked, displaying the pictures of Jaydon’s burns from his autopsy for Lail and the jury to see.
Lail repeatedly said he wasn’t sure why Jaydon only had burns on his head and bottom. He also said when Jaydon died, he didn’t have bruising on his forehead.
“I feel like you’re asking questions I’m not qualified to answer,” Lail said. “I’m just telling you what I saw.”
When asked why he left Jaydon alone in the tub again after he was burned the last time he was left alone, Lail testified he didn’t know why he left him alone again.
“It was a mistake,” he added.
In Lail’s statement to Whisnant, he told her he took Jaydon and Kylie out of the tub at the same time May 3, but Jaydon defecated on the floor, so he put him back in.
Van Buren shared his theory with Lail about what happened.
“Jaydon pooped on the floor and you got mad and threw him in the tub and murdered him, didn’t you?” he asked, adding that’s why Lail doesn’t remember the bruises being on Jaydon’s forehead when he died.
Lail grimaced at the accusation and said, “I did not murder him.”
After a few more questions, from both Van Buren and Jayne, Lail’s testimony ended.
After a brief testimony from the mother of Lail’s daughter, who said she did recall having a conversation with Lail where he expressed concern about Weathers’ treatment of the children, the defense rested their case.
Jayne asked Superior Court Judge Forrest D. Bridges for Lail's charges to be dropped, again.
He denied her motion.
Closing arguments will begin Monday.