Several motions were heard Thursday morning in the death penalty case against Cobey Wade Lakemper, who stands accused of killing hotel clerk Wendy Carter in 2005.
Defense attorneys Joseph Vigneri and Doug Ramseur with the Georgia Capital Defenders Office filed several motions to suppress, including testimony of four witnesses and photos of the deceased.
The reason for the suppression of the witness statements is due to the statements given to them by Carter prior to her death from complications of her injuries, three months after the shooting, which occurred in the early morning hours of August 18.
The statements came from the first responding officer from the Covington Police Department Paul Madsen, Lt. Tom Kunz from the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, Carter’s mother and a friend — all of whom she reportedly spoke to about the shooting prior to her death. The defense also requested the suppression of the 911 call which Carter made moments after being shot in the stomach.
The call was played for the judge and attorneys and began with an obviously distraught Carter screaming for help.
"Please help me, please!" she screamed at the 911 operator on the other end of the line. Several times Carter begged for help; she also gave the operator a description of her assailant.
"He had a black gun; he shot me twice; I’m dying!" she screamed. "Please, I’m dying on my birthday!"
As Carter’s anguished cries rang out in the silent courtroom, 32-year-old Lakemper sat with his eyes down, chin resting in his hands.
The defense argued that because the operator asked Carter to identify her attacker, the conversation in some of the 911 recording was not related to her immediate emergency, which was the need for medical assistance because of her injuries.
Judge Samuel Ozburn ruled that the tape should be admitted, saying that identifying the person responsible was part of the emergency because an officer and emergency personnel were on the way to assist Carter and their safety depended on the location of the gunman.
District Attorney Ken Wynne said that he believed anyone living in that area — which backs up against the Settlers Grove subdivision and, at the time, was across the street from an apartment complex — would think that a man with a gun in the area was an emergency.
Madsen’s testimony was also ruled admissible because he was the responding officer, and although the statements made to the officer were of past events (the robbery and shooting), Ozburn ruled that his statements would be allowed under the res gestae exception.
Res gestae means "things done" in Latin and is defined as "circumstances surrounding and connected with a happening. Thus, the res gestae of a crime includes the immediate area and all occurrences and statements immediately after the crime. Statements made within the res gestae of a crime or accident may be admitted in court even though they are "hearsay" on the basis that spontaneous statements in those circumstances are reliable."
Kunz’ testimony was also ruled admissible under the same umbrella. According to Kunz, Carter directed him to the area where a card with information was located about the occupant of room 114 — who she reportedly said was the person who shot her. On the card was the name Cobey Lakemper with an address from North Carolina.
He also testified that Carter told him that she remembered Lakemper because she and another clerk had a discussion when they saw him about how they thought he was handsome.
Kunz went through Carter’s statement of the events that led up to her shooting, including sharing a cigarette with Lakemper before heading back inside the hotel which is when, according to statements, Lakemper allegedly struck her in the back of the head with something hard. Carter allegedly ran into an office and closed the door, attempting to keep Lakemper out, but he reportedly reached inside and shot her. Carter allegedly begged for her life, telling Lakemper that she had kids and telling him to take the money.
"These statements are clearly testimonial," said Ramseur. He also argued that the statements of what allegedly happened were to help apprehend a perpetrator, not to assist in the emergency that was Carter’s injuries.
Wynne said that because Carter said several times that she was dying and that because she believed she was going to die her statement of events could stand as her dying declaration.
"She did, in fact, die as a result of the gunshot wound in this case," Wynne said.
"Dying declarations are clearly testimonial," argued Ramseur.
"I think it’s clear that she thought she was about to die," said Ozburn. "Whether she died minutes later or months later is not the issue. The issue is if in her mind she thought she was about to die. … Because she thought she was about to die it allows this (statement) to fall under the dying declaration exception and I’ll allow that portion to be admitted."
No trial date has been set as of yet, but Ozburn previously stated he anticipated a July or August trial date for Lakemper.