Daughter’s testimony rattles courtroom

Published 3:00 pm Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Murder victim Vanessa Mintz' daughter, Jessica Freeman, testified on Wednesday about finding her mother at the Saluda Mountain Lodge on Feb. 19, 2011. (photo courtesy of CBS News)

Murder victim Vanessa Mintz’ daughter, Jessica Freeman, testified on Wednesday about finding her mother at the Saluda Mountain Lodge on Feb. 19, 2011. (photo courtesy of CBS News)

Murder victim Vanessa Mintz’ daughter, Jessica Freeman, rattled the courtroom Wednesday morning with emotional testimony about finding her mother’s body at the Saluda Mountain Lodge on Feb. 19, 2011.
Freeman said she was concerned that morning because her mother did not call her the night before nor was her mother answering the phone that morning.
She got ready quickly and arrived at the lodge around 9 a.m., noticing immediately that the blinds to the manager’s quarters were closed, the “closed” sign was up and the door was standing wide open, Freeman said on the stand.
She said she went into the bedroom and the television was blaring loud and the only lighting was from the glow of the television.
“I saw my mother lying on the bed,” Freeman said.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Alex Bass asked if her mother was dressed. Freeman answered yes. “It looked as if she’d thrown up everywhere,” Freeman said.
Freeman said she just kept calling out her name, saying, “Mom, wake up. What is going on?” She continued by saying she grabbed her mother’s foot, which was very cold. Freeman’s father had ironically died on Feb. 19, 2007 so she kept telling herself she just had her daddy on her mind that day.
Crying on the stand, Freeman said she then looked at her mother’s arm and saw this chunk.
“Chunk of flesh,” Freeman continued. “You see, I’d never seen anything like that before.
Freeman said she walked out of the room and called the now defendant, Travis McGraw, her mother’s husband.
“I picked up the phone and called Travis and said Mama is sick. There’s something bad wrong,” Freeman testified.
McGraw said he was eating breakfast at Cracker Barrel with his mother and his children, according to Freeman.  After that Freeman said she called 911 and assumed help was on the way.
She went back into the bedroom and said she had this ongoing conversation with her mom, asking her what was wrong and for her to wake up. She said she called her sister and looked to see if her mom was breathing; if her chest was rising and falling.
“That’s when I noticed a hole in her head and I started screaming,” Freeman said sobbing. “There’s a hole in my mama’s head. My sweet mama.”
That’s when Freeman realized it wasn’t vomit, she said, it was blood.
She said she called 911 again telling the operator this is the Saluda Mountain Lodge again.
“She’s not sick,” Freeman said she told 911. “She’s dead.”
Testimony continued Wednesday with former Det. Charles Hitch with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Check www.tryondailybulletin.com for constant updates on the case.
Following includes testimony from the trial on Tuesday, May 27.
Approximately 50 friends and family members sat through Tuesday’s testimony watching photograph after photograph of the scene and bags of evidence being opened, including a spent shotgun shell found feet away from the end of the bed where Mintz was found.  Another shotgun shell was found in McGraw’s truck that was the same brand and make of the spent shell.
The jury and later Freeman were shown photographs of Mintz’ body that were withheld from the public’s view.
The life insurance policy
Maj. William Beauchene, McGraw’s squadron commander in the U.S. Air Force said he received a suspicious email from McGraw the night Mintz was found murdered, inquiring about a $100,000 life insurance policy he had on his wife. The email included the subject line of “Death,” and said his wife had been working at the family-owned lodge and went to bed when someone broke in and stole $200 from the cash drawer and shot and killed his wife. The email also said how McGraw was worried about how he would pay for funeral services.
Beauchene said he contacted the SBI and sent them the email.
Beauchene said normally a serviceman notifies a commanding offer about a death in the family, but McGraw’s email was sent to four senior officers. The email was sent at 7:53 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011, approximately 10 hours after Mintz’ body was found.
Beauchene said he had to read the email several times and he “was shocked.”
During cross examination, defense attorney Tony Dalton asked if it was normal for someone in the Air Force to have life insurance with Beauchene answering that it was not unusual. He said a serviceman could have up to $400,000 on themselves and up to $100,000 for their spouse with the service people paying for the insurance.
Dalton also asked Beauchene if when he called McGraw to offer condolences regarding his wife’s death was it not McGraw who gave him the contact number for the SBI.
“I’m not sure, but that’s possible,” said Beauchene.
SBI testimony
SBI special agent Shannon Ashe said he was called at 10:40 a.m. on Feb. 19, 2011 to document the crime scene and arrived at approximately 11:50 a.m. He said his job was to document the crime scene, saying he took pictures of everything and collected evidence.
Ashe painted a picture of the manager’s quarters, detailing items and furniture in each room of the living room, kitchen, office, bedroom one, bedroom two and two bathrooms.
Ashe testified that Mintz’ body was lying on the bed with her head on the pillow with blood spatter on the wall, ceiling and door.
“She was lying on her back,” Ashe said, “more to the left than the right.”
He described her as wearing gray sweatpants and a gray sweatshirt, with a ring on her right hand and a gold band on her left hand.
Mintz’ left hand was over her face, Ashe said, with both arms in the face area and gunshot wounds to the head.
“It was obvious she was shot with a shotgun,” Ashe said.
He said he collected among other items from the lodge, one opened York Peppermint Patty wrapper found in the trash, miscellaneous papers from the office, one Winchester 12-guage shotgun shell from the bedroom floor that was spent, one Verizon cell phone on the bed, six pellets from the bed and an opened cash drawer containing coins but no paper money.
Ashe testified he saw no signs of forced entry at any of the doors, saying doors to the manager’s quarters were locked, although he was unsure if the doors were locked when other investigators first arrived.
Dalton objected to some photographs being entered into evidence, including some of Mintz’ body, saying they were excessive, but judge Tommy Davis allowed the photographs saying they were illustrative of Ashe’s testimony. Dalton also objected to the blood spatter photographs, saying there had been no testimony that Ashe had training in blood spatter or even if the pictures were blood spatter or who deposited the blood.
“(Ashe) did not do any testing on blood at all,” Dalton said. “If this is blood spatter it’s speculation and as to when it got there, we have no idea.”
Davis didn’t allow further testimony regarding the photographs to refer to blood spatter.
The red pickup truck
Ashe said he was told McGraw gave consent to search his Chevy pickup truck in the parking lot. He detailed several guns, boxes of ammunition and magazine clips found in the truck, various identifications, including from the Fletcher Police Department along with various other items. Ashe said he found recent receipts from a Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn, a utility knife, a York Peppermint Patty, a briefcase with disability papers, opened and unopened mail, a roll of toilet paper under the seat, surgical type gloves and a South Carolina speeding ticket along with an unfired 12 gauge shotgun shell and a unfired slug shotgun shell.
Both the spent shell found in the floor of the bedroom and the shell found in McGraw’s truck, were Winchester three and ¼-1-6 rabbit squirrel load shells, according to Ashe’s testimony.
Dalton suggested someone other than Dalton could have murdered Mintz by asking about a fingerprint on the cash drawer and asking if fingerprints or DNA were taken from the spent shotgun shell. Ashe said he did not know if fingerprints or DNA were taken from the shell after he collected it.
Dalton asked if Ashe knew if there was more than one shooter.
Ashe said there was only one shell found. Dalton asked if Ashe knew how many wounds were on the body with Ashe answering he did not. Ashe said his job was to document the scene and he did no reconstruction of the crime.
Dalton also asked if Ashe found Mintz’ purse at the scene. Ashe said he found no purse other than what he referred to as a Coach day planner.
Freeman testified on Wednesday that her mother’s purse was found in her mother’s car. She admitted that at one time she told investigators her mother’s debit and credit card were missing but that all her mother’s belongings were later accounted for in her estate.
Testimony in the trial continued Wednesday afternoon and today, Thursday, May 29.

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