Cobey Wade Lakemper told jurors on Thursday in his death penalty case that the downward spiral of his life that led to the shooting of Wendy Cartledge-Carter in 2005 all started when his fiancée left him and took their young son with her.
Lakemper was forthcoming with his version of the events, saying that he attempted suicide several times and went on several drug and alcohol binges after he received a text message from his ex-fiancée, telling him their relationship was over.
"I felt completely helpless, like I had lost everything in my life that meant anything," he said.
He left their apartment and wandered the streets for several days, not sleeping.
"It was like I was looking for something that couldn't be found... everything I cared about was lost."
He tried to kill himself with sleeping pill overdoses, but only managed to hallucinate "shadow people" and a man with a machine gun.
He started breaking into homes and stealing and admitted to breaking into a home and stealing a 9 mm handgun, with the goal of using it on himself.
"In a strange way it was like a lifeline," he said. "I wanted to kill myself and a gun would ensure that."
Lakemper testified of an abusive relationship with his father, but he decided that he wanted to travel to North Carolina to see his father and sister Jessica once more before killing himself. He admitted to stealing a car and robbing a hotel along the way, as well as drinking and doing drugs. He told defense attorney Joseph Vigneri that he wasn't concerned about leaving evidence because the goal was to end his life so he wasn't worried about being caught.
He said he ended up at the home of William and Joyce Covington because he was nearly out of gas and was looking for a home to rob. He came upon the home because it was right off the interstate and went to the front door and knocked to make sure no one was there. He had the 9mm in the waistband of his shorts at the time.
Just when he was about to kick the door open, William opened it. Lakemper said he quickly tried to think of something to say, and ended up asking for directions. While they were talking, the gun fell out of his pants and William reportedly said "Whoa!" which is when Lakemper testified that he picked up the gun, pointed it at him and told him to step inside the house.
William told Lakemper that his wife was in the house and he called her. She stepped out of a bathroom close to the door and had a cordless phone in her hand. He demanded money and they complied. At one point she told him that she had been on the phone with her daughter and that the police were coming.
"I freaked out... I panicked," Lakemper said. I was scared the cops were coming and that they knew I was there. I shot at them and Mr. Covington slammed the dining room door and I just ran out."
As he testified to the murders of the Covington's, Cartledge-Carter's husband, Randy, wiped tears from his eyes, shaking his head slowly.
Lakemper said he pulled the phone cords out of the ground and took the cordless phone with him, tossing it into woods on his way to the highway.
"I felt like I was living outside of myself," he said. "I've had dreams that seemed more real... None of it seemed real, which is what made it easier to push it out of my mind."
He testified that he pulled off the interstate in Covington on Aug. 17, 2005 because he was exhausted and wanted to get a hotel room. Once he checked in around 10:30 a.m. he started drinking whiskey. He left the hotel at one point to get some more alcohol and food and go to the store then went back to the hotel and continued drinking.
The note that District Attorney Layla Zon said was taunting law enforcement that was found in his hotel room, Lakemper said was left earlier in the day for a totally different reason. After sending several texts to his ex-fiancée he was certain she had called law enforcement on him and he was leaving the note for them because of that.
Lakemper said the night was a bit of a blur because of his intoxication level but that he remembered making contact with Cartledge-Carter around that time. He said he couldn't remember what they talked about but that at some point he went into the back office with her and the two drank together and that for some reason he felt like he might be able to score some drugs, thought he couldn't say why he thought that.
He talked freely of striking her in the back of the head and of her running from him into a back room in the office. While he spoke, her family sobbed, holding hands. Her youngest son, Dylan, left the courtroom.
"I had this feeling of doom come over me," Lakemper said. "I remember her saying ‘don't shoot, I have kids' and I didn't shoot again... I didn't think about shooting her, I just shot. There was no thinking and no planning, I pulled the trigger and I shot."
Vigneri later asked Lakemper what his thoughts were on the crime spree and he expressed regret.
"There aren't words to express how sorry I am to everyone I have hurt," Lakemper said. "The pain that I've caused people isn't temporary, it will last their whole lives... I wish I could take it back."
While Lakemper expressed remorse to the jury, Cartledge-Carter's 80-year-old father William, stared at him and mumbled "liar."
The trial will resume Friday with a cross-examination of Lakemper by Zon.