NEWTON— Day one in the trial of a Hickory man charged with murder in connection to a 2013 drowning of a 20-month-old had a slow start Monday.
The defense's objection to some of the photographs that were to be presented as evidence had yet to be discussed, despite a motion made at an earlier date.
The defendant, William Howard Lail III, is charged with one count of first-degree murder and four counts of felony child abuse. He does not face the death penalty.
Lail is accused of murdering Jaydon Ray Sandlin and physically abusing both Jaydon and his older sister, Kylie Madison Sandlin, who was 3 at the time of Lail’s arrest, at a residence in Long View on May 3, 2013.
Lail’s attorney Victoria Jayne argued that some of the close up photos of the two victims and the crime scene were not necessary evidence and could be considered prejudicial.
Superior Court Judge Forrest D. Bridges, of Lincoln and Cleveland courts, overruled the majority of Jayne's objections after the prosecution argued these close-ups were imperative to show the full extent of the injuries on the children the day of the incident, and the photographs were needed for upcoming testimony from several witnesses.
Each party spent roughly 10 minutes with opening statements.
For the state, Assistant District Attorney Jamie Adams shared a brief family history of the victims, including a history of violence in the home.
Soon after leaving her husband and the father of her two children, Whitney Weathers, Jaydon and Kylie’s mother, met Lail and started a relationship.
“He told her he did not want responsibility of the children,” Adams said.
Adams told the jury Weathers pled guilty to five counts of felony child abuse earlier this year and admitted to neglecting to care for the children properly by leaving Jaydon and Kylie in their car seats and in closets.
Adams said prior to Jaydon’s death, Weathers said she came home from work one afternoon to find severe burns on both children after being under Lail’s supervision.
Lail told Weathers the burns were from scalding bath water from when he accidentally left the children alone when the garbage truck arrived.
Adams said Weathers was skeptical, but didn’t question him further. Adams added that Lail had begun to take care of the children after losing his job.
Around a week and a half later, Jaydon drowned in the bathtub, and when first responders arrived, they found severe burns and other injuries on both children.
“The main issue in this case is whether or not (Lail) committed first-degree or second-degree murder,” Adams said.
In Jayne’s opening statements, Jayne said her client admits he was negligent when it came to the children and readily accepts responsibility.
She said when Jaydon died, Lail’s phone was not working so he took Jaydon to a neighbor’s residence and called 911, where he tried to administer CPR.
“(William) never intentionally harmed the children,” she said. “He admits he was negligent, careless and even reckless.”
After a lunch recess, court resumed, with Long View Fire Department Volunteer Firefighter Chris Riley as the first witness to testify.
He said he first responded to what he thought was a cardiac arrest, and when arrived to the scene, he saw Jaydon on the floor face down. He was able to quickly determine the child had no pulse.
“He was cold to the touch,” Riley said. “He was stiff.”
Jayne asked if he administered any first aid. He replied he didn’t because Jaydon was dead.
Riley also said he noticed several bruises on the boy’s body.
The next few witnesses to the stand described to the court the condition of Lail, Jaydon and Kylie upon arrival and after spending time on the scene.
“(Kylie) had marks littered across her body,” said Joshua Rector, the first officer from the Long View Police Department on the scene. “I could feel a large scab on her back, near her neck.”
Photographic evidence taken of Kylie in an ambulance on the scene depicted a large, scabbed-over burn on Kylie’s back. This was shown to the courtroom.
When asked about Kylie’s condition, Rector became overwhelmed with emotion, taking a second to gather himself before answering Adams’ question.
“I guess she was kind of lifeless,” he said, pausing. “She had no clothes on and was wearing a diaper that was completely soaked and mushy. She was dirty, had been for some time.”
When he handed Kylie off to be checked out by EMS, he noticed her diaper left behind fecal matter on his clothes.
He said in his seven years as a police officer, he’s never seen anything else like what he saw on that day.
“It was a pretty traumatic experience,” he added.
Upon seeing Jaydon for the first time, he checked for a pulse and said Jaydon felt cold and clammy to the touch.
Other officers on the scene May 3, including Long View Fire Department Capt. Barry Sigmon, told the same story of a cold and lifeless Jaydon and injured Kylie, naked except for a soiled diaper.
“He was a bluish gray tint, which is an indicator of lack of oxygen flow,” Sigmon said.
He said Kylie had different levels of scabs on her body.
Consita Bell, a criminal specialist with the North Carolina State Investigation Bureau, was next to testify.
As she was explaining the evidence her investigation team found on the crime scene, court was adjourned and evacuated due to the tornado warning in Catawba County.
Testimony will continue Tuesday morning in Catawba County Superior Court.