For the first time in open court, an emotional Stephanie Casola testified Wednesday about the May 2006 attack on her and her family.
The testimony was given during a pretrial hearing of her alleged attacker Laney Barnes.
Casola said she exited the McDonald's with her sons Jacob Casola, 5, and Isaac Casola, 4, along with sister Anita King and 2-year-old niece Avery King. As they stepped off the curb into an empty parking spot, Casola said she heard a car approaching her family. She looked up and saw the car and driver stopped in front of the parking spot.
"(He stopped) long enough (for me) to feel comfortable he was going to let us get over," Casola said. "He smiled. I smiled back. Then I heard the rev of an engine and the next thing I knew, we were under a car."
Casola said she had no doubt the assault had been intended.
"All I can assume is that he was waiting for us to get closer so he could nail my babies," said a tearful Casola.
After the incident, Casola was life flighted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. While Casola was waiting for surgery, Covington Police Detective DJ Seals visited her in the hospital. Seals brought a photographic lineup to determine if Casola could identify her attacker.
Casola testified she was on several drugs, including morphine, at that time.
"They probably had me more sedated than I realized," Casola said. "I didn't even know if my babies are dead or alive."
While she was sedated, doctors did not tell Casola the dire condition of her sons, nor did they inform her of the death of her niece Avery King.
Seals told the court that Casola seemed to be in and out of focus and did not immediately recognize him even though their boys played soccer together. Despite her limitations, Casola said thought she could still pick out his picture.
"He tried to kill my boys," she said. "I wanted to get him."
Because of the medication and her injuries, Casola was unable to hold the lineup in her hand. Seals reportedly had to hold the sheet of paper over her face while she lay on her back.
Casola and Seals testified that she did not identify the man the CPD had in custody. She was only told afterward that she had not identified their suspect.
"I just realized I made a big mistake," Casola said.
But in court Wednesday, she did identify Barnes as her attacker.
Also during hearings on Thursday Newton County District Attorney Ken Wynne pressed Judge Gene Benton to allow the state their own mental evaluation of Barnes. The defense argued that at this time, the state is not entitled to have Barnes evaluated because they have not decided to use insanity has a defense. Under Georgia law, the state is only allowed to have their own mental evaluation if the defense uses an expert witness to prove the defendant is insane, Adams said.
The defense also presented evidence of possible faults in the grand jury selection process in Newton County. Their argument is that the growth and expanding diversity of the county has made the grand jury invalid because it was selected based on age, race and sex percentages in the county according to the 2000 US Census.
They argued that the county has changed so much since 2000 that the census is not a legitimate way to determine those percentages. Particularly underrepresented, the defense said, are Latinos. In the 2000 census, race is defined as white, black or other. The defense argued the influx of Latinos into the county has made it necessary to include them as their own group.
Wynne argued simply that the grand jury was selected in accordance with the law and was thus completely valid.
A similar motion has also been filed by the defense of accused murderer Cobey Lakemper. Both defenses called several of the same witnesses including Clerk of Court Linda Hayes, Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby and Jeffery Martin, an expert in statistics, demography and jury composition.
Marin said Newton County has the seventh highest demographic change of all Georgia counties.
Benton also heard testimony in the defense's motion for a change of venue. The defense argued Barnes cannot get a fair trail in Newton County due to the amount of news coverage the case received. Defense attorney Chris Carter of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit Public Defender's Office said, in several instances, the media coverage had been biased against Barnes. Particularly, Carter said, some of the pictures run of Barnes had a negative connotation.
Lynn Dail, circulation manager for The News, and Collin Stewart, managing editor of the Rockdale Citizen and Newton Citizen, testified about the circulation of the newspapers in Newton County. Stewart also spoke about the interest level in the case.
None of the motions discussed in the three days of hearings were ruled on by Benton. The motions will again be heard at a yet-to-be-scheduled date.