The murder trial of Cobey Wade Lakemper continues this week, with witnesses from Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee taking the stand in an effort to show jurors that Lakemper was on a multi-state crime spree in 2005 when he allegedly shot hotel clerk Wendy Cartledge-Carter; a crime spree that had already resulted in two murders before he arrived in Covington.
William and Joyce Covington were found dead in their rural North Carolina home on Aug. 7, 2005. William was 72 and Joyce 65 when they were killed. Joyce would have celebrated her 66th birthday on Aug. 18, the same day as Cartledge-Carter.
"When I got inside the kitchen I noticed the doors to the dining room were shut, which they never did," she said. "I pushed open the door and I saw Daddy. He was leaning up against the corner cupboard and Mama was lying down on the floor."
She said that she talked to them as she ran to the kitchen to call for help, but while the base to the cordless phone was there, the phone was nowhere to be found. In fact, the phone has yet to be found.
"I ran back and told Mama I was going for help and that I'd be right back," she said, crying. "When I took her hand, she was cold."
As Denise testified, her daughter Sara, along with Cartledge-Carter's son's Doug, Dustin and Dylan, cried. Lakemper sat quietly at the defense table, occasionally looking through papers or writing.
Authorities from the Stokes County Sheriff's Office and the North Carolina State Investigation Bureau testified that the Covington's home was not ransacked and, with the exception of the dining room, there didn't seem to be a lot of disarray.
However, the phone lines to the home had been cut on the outside of the house and a flower bed had been trampled. William had been shot twice - once on each side and Joyce once. Both had been shot in a similar fashion to Cartledge-Carter.
Joyce's debit card had also been used at 11:33 a.m. on Aug. 6 a few miles away at a convenience store.
Edwin Lackey testified that his home was robbed on July 28, 2005 and his loaded, 9mm Ruger semi-automatic had been stolen. He was able to compare his receipt from the purchase of that gun and the serial number on it to the one in state's evidence that has been linked to the bullet that was removed from Cartledge-Carter, as well as the bullets removed from the bodies of the Covingtons. He also said that a book of checks had been stolen and one had been made out to Lakemper.
Although the Covingtons were not located until Aug. 7, the day before Lakemper reportedly made contact with an ex-girlfriend named Jill Shirley in Winston Salem and she reported seeing a credit card from Legacy Bank with Joyce Covington’s name on it in his pocket. She also said that she saw him with a gun.
She testified that while the two had not dated in years, they had kept in touch. Lakemper allegedly began calling her around 11 a.m. and she spoke with him around 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 6, just hours after the Covington’s daughter reported hearing a doorbell ring at her parent’s home while on the phone with them.
Shirley said she met Lakemper at a restaurant and the two conversed over a few beers, eventually ending up at her apartment where they talked some more before heading over to a party with a 12-pack. They reportedly drank, and at one point, took Ecstasy, that night. They arrived at the party around 8 p.m. and around midnight he left and went to his vehicle. He came back and they continued to party until around 2 a.m. Sometime during the night she sat on Lakemper’s lap, which is when she felt what she thought was a credit card in his front pocket. When she questioned him about it she told jurors that he told her “don’t worry about it,” but at her insistence, he did slip it out long enough for her to see that name on it.
“I remembered the name [Covington] because there was a doctor at the animal hospital where I worked with that last name,” she said.
Lakemper reportedly left a little after 1 p.m. the next day. Shirley said he mentioned maybe visiting his father who lived in Tobaccoville, N.C., but she said she didn’t know if he made that trip and that she didn’t speak to him again until the early morning of Aug. 18.
Shirley also told jurors that authorities from Stokes County, N.C. and the North Carolina State Investigation Bureau came to speak with her on Aug. 17 and she had agreed to help them find Lakemper. She provided them with his cell phone number and a Christmas card that he had sent her in 2002. Around 2 a.m. her phone rang and it was Lakemper. He reportedly asked her if anyone had tried to get in touch with her about him and asked her how she was doing.
“I was really nervous but I was just trying to act as normal as possible,” she said.
Shirley said that during their conversation she heard Lakemper ask someone if there were any messages for Room 114 – the room he stayed in at the Comfort Inn where Cartledge-Carter was shot.
According to Special Agent Danny Mayes with the State Bureau of Investigation, investigators initially had no leads in the Covington’s death until they spoke with Shirley and that Lakemper’s father and sister were unable to help locate him. He later spoke with authorities from Newton County and with the help of U.S. Marshals Lakemper was located at a bar in Jackson, TN on Aug. 24.
Billy Carneal was working undercover at that time and was one of the law enforcement officers who were called in to help apprehend Lakemper in Tennessee. They reportedly went inside The Cotton Patch, what Carneal called “a country honkey tonk,” called Lakemper’s name, and when he turned, took him to the ground. Although he did not have a gun on him at that time, they later located the 9mm inside the vehicle he had been driving.
Jurors also heard from John Paulisick, a forensic specialist with the Georgia Bureau, who testified as an expert witness that the handwriting on the note left behind at the Comfort Inn matched the handwriting in the Christmas card sent to Shirley in 2002, handwriting she identified as belonging to Lakemper.
Cartledge-Carter’s attending physician from Kindred Hospital, the long-term care facility she was transferred to when she was released from Atlanta Medical on Sept. 20, 2005, was the last to take the stand Tuesday.
“She was extraordinarily weak and profoundly debilitated,” said Dr. David DeRuyter, Cartledge-Carter’s doctor and one of the medical directors for the hospital.
He testified that within hours of her admission she had to be put back on life support and the next day they started keeping her off a ventilator during the day and on it at night so that she could sleep well. He also said that she had repeated “temperature spikes” during her stay, and he was concerned that those were due to continued infections in her abdomen because of the injuries to her intestines and colon. However, he also said that she had been making progress until the day that she died.
DeRuyter told jurors that initially Cartledge-Carter didn’t have the energy to roll over or sit up by herself and she was in “almost continual pain” unless she was flat on her back, due to the location of her wound. He said that pain would cause tremendous stress to a person’s body and could affect a person’s life span.
Lakemper’s defense attorney Joseph Vigneri had previously questioned the forensic pathologist from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who did Cartledge-Carter’s autopsy regarding prior medical conditions the victim suffered from, as to whether or not those could have caused her death. Newton County Assistant District Attorney Peter Boehm did the same with DeRuyter, going through each of her ailments.
The doctor said Cartledge-Carter’s issues with sleep apnea would not have been a problem because she had a tracheotomy which would allow her to breathe. There had been talk of the possibility that she suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which DeRuyter said he saw no evidence of. As for the hypothyroidism, that was under control at the time with medication as was her diabetes and “not relevant to her death,” according to the doctor.
The day before she died Cartledge-Carter spiked a fever of 104 degrees. They were able to get that under control and she got slightly better. The day she died the fever had gone down a bit but her blood pressure had started dropping and her heart rate was high. She was moved to intensive care and an EKG showed she may have suffered a heart attack. She complained of chest pains. DeRuyter said they treated her like they would any other patient with those ailments, and she felt better. Her chest pains and nausea were gone, so he left the hospital to see to another patient.
“She looked like she had turned a corner,” he said.
However, before he could get to that other patient he received the news that Cartledge-Carter had suffered a heart attack. Although he, along with other doctors, tried, they were unable to get a pulse.
As the doctor talked about their fight to save Carter-Cartledge’s life, her family cried quietly, heads down.
“The repetitive stress eventually gets the body to a place where it says ‘I can’t take this anymore,’” explained the doctor.