Clay Waller trial decision now in judge's hands

Thursday, July 26, 2012
Defense attorney Christopher Davis, left, and his client Clay Waller listen to testimony against him during his preliminary hearing Wednesday morning, July 25, 2012 at the Jackson courthouse. Waller is charged with the murder of his wife Jacque who went missing June 1, 2011. (Laura Simon)

The prosecution laid out much of its murder case against Clay Waller at his preliminary hearing Wednesday, including testimony from Waller's former landlord, employees and experts, in an effort to convince a judge to take the case to trial.

The question of whether Waller will stand trial on charges of killing his wife and hiding evidence is now in a Cape Girardeau County judge's hands.

The preliminary hearing wrapped up about 3:35 p.m. Wednesday. Cape Girardeau County Associate Circuit Judge Gary A. Kamp may take several days to review the reams of evidence presented by prosecutors over more than six hours.

Waller is accused of murdering his estranged wife, Jacque, last year. Her body has not been found.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle called about 20 witnesses in the hearing, which was held to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. The defense doesn't get to present its case in a preliminary hearing.

"The judge does have a lot of exhibits to look at. I bet it will take a day or two," Swingle said.

In the investigation, authorities had pieced together 17 pieces of carpet and padding that Clay Waller allegedly removed from his former home where the crime is alleged to have happened.

"This case is like putting together a puzzle," Swingle said.

Prosecuting attorney Morley Swingle shows defense attorney Christopher Davis, left, and his client Clay Waller a photo of Jacque Waller during the opening moments of Waller's preliminary hearing Wednesday morning, July 25, 2012 at the Jackson Courthouse. Waller is charged with the murder of his wife Jacque who went missing June 1, 2011. (Laura Simon)

Authorities have said Clay Waller was the last to see Jacque Waller alive June 1, 2011.

According to a probable-cause statement, Jacque Waller had been living in Ste. Genevieve County since March 2011, while Clay Waller had been living in Jackson.

On the day Jacque Waller disappeared, the Wallers had met with an attorney about divorce proceedings. At the meeting, the couple argued about financial problems, according to the document prepared by Jackson police chief James Humphreys.

Jacque Waller's blue Honda Pilot was seen into the evening on the day she went missing at the house where Clay Waller was staying.

Evidence gathered in the investigation filled 10 five-inch binders of documents, Swingle said. He added that if a trial is granted, he anticipates it taking about six months before the trial starts because the defense hadn't seen any evidence before Wednesday's hearing.

At Wednesday's hearing, Dr. Scott Gibbs, who owns the home where Clay Waller was staying when his wife disappeared, testified that he found signs that something violent had happened there.

"I found blood spatter on the bathroom tile and cabinet and also on the fireplace mantle," said Gibbs, who also said he had experience with forensic investigations. He told investigators some of the carpet was missing and that there were carpet fibers from the lime-green shag carpet leading into the basement.

The FBI was called in after the discovery, testified agent Brian Ritter.

Ritter found more fibers in the basement on the edge of an access hole into a crawl space that reaches under parts of the house. He put on protective clothes and crawled into the area, where he found the cut-up carpet and padding.

"One of the pieces of carpet had what appeared to be a noticeable blood stain on the bottom side," Ritter said. "It tested positive for human blood and for Jacque's DNA."

Ritter said investigators pieced together the carpet where it had apparently been pulled up.

Jackson Cpl. Jeff Bonham said stains on the carpet and the hall walls tested positive for human blood and Jacque Waller's DNA. The blood was moving when the drops struck the walls, he said.

Clay Waller is led out of the Cape Giardeau County Courthouse after his preliminary hearing Wednesday, July 25, 2012. Waller is charged with the murder of his wife Jacque who went missing June 1, 2011. (Adam Vogler)

"A lot of them appear to have a direction," Bonham said, "coming from the floor, upward."

Frantic calls from Jacque Waller's family the night of her disappearance spurred Gibbs to go to his home, where Clay Waller was staying. When he arrived, Clay Waller was sitting on the porch, apparently winded. He told Gibbs he'd just finished a bicycle ride.

Investigators suggested Waller had just finished riding a bicycle from Interstate 55, where Jacque Waller's abandoned Honda Pilot was discovered the next day.

To test their theory, Bonham rode a bicycle similar to Clay Waller's from the site where Jacque Waller's SUV was found to the Gibbs home. He said it took him 15 minutes, 42 seconds to ride the 3.7-mile route.

Cpl. Steve Jarrell, a Missouri State Highway Patrol crash reconstruction expert, said he found three punctures on a flat tire on Jacque Waller's Honda Pilot. The punctures, Jarrell said, couldn't have been made by running over an object, and the vehicle hadn't moved at all after the tire was punctured. He said the punctures were straight cuts, but would have a crescent shape if the car had run over something sharp while moving.

Two of Clay Waller's former employees testified their boss discussed killing his estranged wife.

"I should just kill her," Edwin Rhodes said Clay Waller told him a few weeks before her disappearance.

Tensions ran high outside the courthouse during a recess. Clay Waller's son, James Clay Waller III, got into a fight with prosecution witness Matt Marshall. Swingle said late Wednesday that charges hadn't yet been filed against either man, and that his office would review video and witness statements to determine whether charges were warranted.

Both men were arrested and later released, Swingle said.

Clay Waller pleaded guilty last year to threatening Cheryl Brenneke over the Internet and is serving a five-year sentence in a federal prison in Louisiana. He was also charged in Cape Girardeau County court with felony stealing and harassment in July 2011, but those charges no longer appear in online court records, indicating they've been dropped.

jgamm@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

100 Court St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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