Testimony could end Tuesday in McGraw murder trial

Published 1:14 am Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Defendant Travis McGraw took the stand Friday and Monday in his own trial for the murder of his wife, Vanessa Mintz at the Saluda Mountain Lodge on Feb. 19, 2011. (photo courtesy of CBS News)

Defendant Travis McGraw took the stand Friday and Monday in his own trial for the murder of his wife, Vanessa Mintz at the Saluda Mountain Lodge on Feb. 19, 2011. (photo courtesy of CBS News)

The state prosecutor on Monday, June 2 seized a rare opportunity to question a defendant accused of murder as Travis McGraw was cross-examined after taking the stand in his own trial for the shooting murder of his wife, Vanessa Mintz.

Senior assistant district attorney Alex Bass shot question after question to McGraw, from text messages between he and his former girlfriend Mary Beth Fisher both before and after the murder, to what exactly McGraw did in the days before and after his wife was found murdered at the Saluda Mountain Lodge the morning of Feb. 19, 2011.

Perhaps the most shocking testimony came near the end of McGraw’s cross-examination when Bass asked McGraw at what point did he know money was missing out a cash drawer at the lodge. Bass had just asked McGraw when he found out Mintz was dead, with McGraw answering that Mintz’ father, Carl Mintz told him outside that, “she was gone.”

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“At what point then, did you learn that the money was gone from the drawer?” Bass asked McGraw.

McGraw said he learned that when N.C. State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) agents told him when he was interviewed.

Bass verified that the interview was with SBI agents Steve Modlin and Jim Schandevel and occurred in room 102 of the lodge.

McGraw said he asked if the money was there and that he was under the impression it was gone at the time.

Bass, looking at reports, asked McGraw if he recalled the interview being at 2:39 p.m.

McGraw said it was in the afternoon but he didn’t recall exactly what time the interview occurred.

“Do you recall texting Mary Beth (Fisher) at 1:47 p.m.,” Bass asked McGraw.

Bass said McGraw’s text to Fisher at 1:47 said that if Fisher hadn’t yet heard, “someone broke in and robbed the cash drawer and killed (Mintz).”

McGraw’s attorney Tony Dalton asked McGraw to clarify when he knew about the cash drawer. McGraw said he learned it during the interview.

Dalton asked McGraw if he may have spoken to Mintz’ family members outside about the cash drawer being open.

“I don’t recall,” McGraw said. “I believe it was when I was speaking to agents when I first learned about it.”

Agent Schandevel was called back to the stand and questioned about what McGraw told him in the interview about the cash drawer.

Schandevel said McGraw remembered there was $210 left in the cash drawer and McGraw knew the bill count of exactly how many 20s, 10s and fives were in the drawer.

“Had you told (McGraw) money was gone,” Bass asked Schandevel.

“I was not aware (at the time) the money was gone,” Schandevel answered.

Dalton said to Schandevel that his notes don’t indicate that McGraw knew the money was missing. Dalton said McGraw knowing what was in the cash drawer isn’t surprising since McGraw was working the drawer during the night of the murder.

Bass also asked Schandevel and former Det. Sgt. Chuck Hitch with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office about McGraw’s testimony that he told them he went practice shooting with his shotgun on Feb. 18. Both Scandevel and Hitch testified McGraw never told them he went shooting the day before. McGraw testified Monday morning that a spent shell found on the floor of the murder scene could have fallen out of his pocket while he was changing clothes since he’d been shooting earlier that day.

“What if anything did the defendant say to you about having been shooting on Friday morning,” Bass asked Schandevel.

“Nothing at all,” Schandevel answered.

Bass also asked Schandevel if McGraw said anything about firing pins in shotguns. Schandevel answered that McGraw said nothing at all about firing pins and if he had it would have been very significant. Hitch testified the same, saying if McGraw had said anything like that he would have included that in his report.

The defense ended its testimony with McGraw’s mother.

Testimony is set to resume on Tuesday, with Bass set to call two witnesses to testify about cell phone records.

Judge Tommy Davis is also scheduled to rule on a defense motion to continue the case to allow Dalton to investigate whether McGraw taking Ambien the night of the murder may have affected him. Dalton said he may need a week or two to investigate the possible affects of Ambien on McGraw that night, a prescribed drug that McGraw remembered just before the trial began that he took the night of the murder.

The ruling and testimony will begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Polk County Courthouse in Columbus.