NEWTON — Closing arguments were made in Catawba County Superior Court Monday in the William Howard Lail III murder and child abuse trial.
Lail is charged with one count of first-degree murder in the drowning death of Jaydon Ray Sandlin, 1, and four counts of felony child abuse.
He is accused of abusing both Jaydon and his sister Kylie Madison Sandlin, who was 3 at the time of Lail’s arrest.
On May 3, 2013, first responders arrived to a residence in Long View to find Jaydon deceased and both Jaydon and Kylie covered in burns and bruises.
Lail said the burns were caused by accidentally leaving the children in the bathtub with running water that was too hot a week and a half prior to Jaydon’s death.
As for the drowning, Lail testified on the witness stand in court last week that the drowning was caused by leaving Jaydon unattended in the bathtub.
Neither Kylie nor Jaydon received professional medical treatment for their injuries, which physicians described as excruciatingly painful second- to third-degree burns.
Kylie and Jaydon were the children of Lail’s now ex-girlfriend Whitney Weathers, who pleaded guilty to multiple charges of felony child abuse earlier this year.
During closing arguments, both parties explained to the jury the different types of verdicts they may decide on.
The state, represented by Assistant District Attorneys Jamie Adams and Michael Van Buren, presented two theories of first-degree murder: first-degree murder by premeditation and deliberation and first-degree murder by torture.
The jury may choose to find Lail not guilty of first-degree murder, but guilty of second-degree or involuntary manslaughter instead.
“If you find Lail guilty of second-degree murder, you’ll have to ignore all sorts of the state’s evidence,” Adams said. “Almost all of it.”
She then asked the jury to consider the testimonies of the witnesses, especially the testimonies of the pathologist, pediatricians and social worker.
“These injuries were not accidental,” Adams said.
The state had the option to open and close the closing arguments, which they chose to do.
As she finished the opening closing statement for the prosecution, Adams reminded the jury of Jaydon’s short life.
“Jaydon will never play little league sports,” she said. “He’ll never lose his teeth and have visits from the tooth fairy.”
Defense closing arguments
In her final words to the jury, defense attorney Victoria Jayne asked them to consider Lail’s state of mind the day of Jaydon’s death.
Lail testified to taking methadone that morning and Ativan at the hospital that afternoon before being interviewed by law enforcement.
“That’s not an excuse of what happened,” Jayne clarified.
She then asked the jury to use common sense and apply their own life experiences when recalling Lail’s statements and behavior during his post-arrest interview, which they viewed last week.
“He’s always accepted responsibility for (the burns),” she said.
As for expert testimony, Jayne said Dr. Jerri McLemore, the pathologist who conducted Jaydon’s autopsy, is the most objective witness in this case.
A major point of the defense’s closing argument was placing the blame on Weathers for the abuse, recalling Maggie Ervin, Weathers’ mother’s testimony, where she described witnessing Weathers hit the children.
“To put all of this on Billy Lail just doesn’t add up,” Jayne said.
She then asked the jury to consider second-degree or involuntary manslaughter as possible convictions before playing them the recording of Lail’s May 3, 911 call, where he sounded distressed and told the operator, “He’s not breathing.”
“Ladies and gentleman, does that sound like the voice of a cold-blooded killer?,” she concluded.
State’s final statement
To close, Van Buren reminded the jury of Lail’s inconsistent statements.
“From the beginning, he’s been disingenuous and dishonest,” he said.
From the first statement he made to police to his testimony on the witness stand last week, Lail’s story as to what happened to Jaydon on May 3 has changed as he admitted to telling investigators lies during his first three interviews with police, stating he was “ashamed of what happened,” and had a hard time facing what happened to Jaydon.
However, Lail took an oath to tell the truth before taking the witness stand last week, and promised his testimony to be true.
Van Buren also addressed a few of Jayne’s claims.
In her argument, Jayne said Ervin’s testimony proved the defense’s claim that Weathers committed the majority of the abuse and it was her fault the children didn’t get medical help for their burns.
“(Ervin’s) concerns about her daughter started as soon as she became involved with William Lail,” Van Buren rebutted.
All in all, both the state and the defense asked the jury to be conscientious in their decision making while recalling each piece of evidence and testimony.
Once closing arguments were finished, Superior Court Judge Forrest D. Bridges gave the jury detailed instructions of how to come to a verdict and described what each charge and possible verdict included.
The child abuse charges are as follows:
1. Accused of one felonious count of burning Kylie
2. Accused of one felonious count of severely bruising Kylie
3. Accused of one felonious count of burning Jaydon
4. Accused of one felonious count of severely bruising Jaydon and fracturing his ribs.
The jury must come to a verdict on each of those charges with their verdict options being: guilty of the felonious charge, guilty of misdemeanor or not guilty.
As for the murder charge, the jury may choose to find Lail guilty of first-degree murder by torture, first-degree murder by deliberation and premeditation or both.
They may also reduce the murder charge to second-degree or involuntary manslaughter, or they may find him not guilty of murder.
“That’s what the verdict means: To speak the truth,” Bridges said. “Find the verdict impartially, without any sympathy or bias.”
Each verdict must be a unanimous vote.
After dismissing the two alternate jurors, the 12 remaining made their way to the deliberation room, requesting to have a printed copy of Bridges’ instructions, copies of the photo evidence and a more detailed definition of what the word “intentional” means as it pertains to the law.
The jury deliberated for around an hour and a half before Bridges dismissed them for the day.
Deliberation continues Tuesday morning.