Testimony begins in McGraw trial

Published 12:26 am Saturday, May 24, 2014


A newly seated jury heard prosecutor Alex Bass say that Travis McGraw used his own shotgun to kill his wife, Vanessa Mintz.

During opening statements, which began in Polk County Superior Court Friday, May 22, Bass said the state will prove a shell found at the scene was fired from McGraw’s gun.

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“The victim had been shot twice,” Bass told jurors. “Once with a shotgun blast to the elbow, tearing up the skin and the muscle and ripping through it. And a second fatal blast hitting her in the eye,” pointing to his right eye, “and face and ripping through her head.”

But defense attorney Tony Dalton said a complete investigation was not done in the case.

“That there was a rush to judgment here,” Dalton told the jury of 12. “Travis McGraw was their man in their mind.”

Dalton also said the state has no DNA evidence linking McGraw to the murder with the defense pointing to a possible robbery at the lodge.

Bass gave jurors and the audience, including many of Mintz’ family grim details of the morning Mintz was found at the Saluda Mountain Lodge, which her family owned when she was found murdered on Feb. 19, 2011.

Mintz’ daughter found her mother unresponsive.

Bass reviewed an unraveling marriage between Mintz and McGraw saying an extramarital affair on McGraw’s end escalated to an ultimatum. Bass said a witness can put McGraw at the scene of the crime and another will testify McGraw asked for advice about how to cash an insurance policy he had out on Mintz.

While Bass said a forensic test from a N.C. State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) agent, who specialized in tool mark evidence at the time, will testify to the match of the spent shell left at the scene, Dalton said he plans to call his own expert who will raise doubts about the test. Dalton said investigators never bothered to look past McGraw as a suspect, even though McGraw’s son saw him asleep in his bed in another county the night of the murder.

Dalton said witnesses will also testify that the cash drawer in the lodge’s office was open when police responded to the murder and McGraw had counted $210 left the night before leaving and money was missing the morning of Feb. 19, as well as Mintz’ credit and debit cards from her purse.

Opening statements also included details of McGraw and Mintz’ marriage. The couple met in 2008, Mintz a real estate agent, McGraw a former police officer, according to opening statements. McGraw and Mintz met after he separated from his wife and after his divorce, the two eloped on Feb. 28, 2009.

Bass said in October the same year, McGraw was injured while working at the Fletcher Police Department and resigned. Money was tight for McGraw, Bass said, and he worked odd jobs while he waited for his disability to be approved.

While working with a real estate firm that handles sales and rentals in Hendersonville, Bass said McGraw met Mary Beth Fisher, who is 17 years younger than McGraw.

Bass said the two began texting more and more often and that Fisher will testify she was in a vulnerable state at the time and McGraw was not wearing a wedding ring.

When Fisher later learned from Mintz and others McGraw was married, she ended the relationship, according to Bass.

But after returning from service from the Air Force in 2011, Bass said McGraw was actively pursing Fisher, telling her he wanted to leave Mintz but couldn’t afford to do so.

On Feb. 17, 2011, Fisher told McGraw to make a choice between she and Mintz by that Sunday.

Bass said about three weeks before her murder, Mintz told a friend that McGraw was having two affairs and he used her money to pay at least one of the other woman’s bills. McGraw gave Mintz no Christmas or Valentine’s Day presents, Bass said, but on Feb. 18 Mintz planned to stay with McGraw at the Saluda Mountain Lodge for a late Valentine’s Day celebration after her shift.

While Bass said McGraw left the lodge around 9:30 p.m. that Friday night to go to the store, Dalton said McGraw left to go home and meet his son.

According to Dalton, McGraw took his pain medicine and went to bed, where McGraw’s son saw him sleeping and never heard him get up until 7:30 a.m. for them to have breakfast at Cracker Barrel.

Dalton said it was at Cracker Barrel when McGraw got a call from Mintz’ daughter, Jessica Freeman about Mintz.

Dalton said McGraw went to the lodge and fully cooperated with law enforcement.

The state called its first witness, Heidi Latham, of Kentucky, who testified she was staying a few doors down from the office that night and was awakened by a loud, “whooshing sound.”

Latham, Mintz’ friend, said upon arriving at the lodge went inside to chat with Mintz and McGraw and stayed up with Mintz about 15 or 20 minutes after McGraw left and then she went to bed. She said the noise woke her up between 3 and 5 a.m.

Latham told the jury she remembered thinking the noise was strange and hoping it wasn’t a storm coming up and then she heard it again. She said she couldn’t sleep so packed her bag and was ready to leave but an “eerie” feeling came over her.

She said after about a minute she went outside and left and a red truck that was gone when she went to bed was back.

The murder trial will continue on Tuesday, May 27 with Latham’s testimony.

The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m.