Alec McNaughton murder case appeal hearing Monday

By ALEX McRAE On Aug. 10, 2010, Coweta's Alec McNaughton was sentenced to life plus 20 years in prison after being found guilty of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault in the Feb. 15, 2009, slaying of his wife, Cathy Mendenhall McNaughton, at the couple's north Coweta home. McNaughton has since appealed the verdict to the Georgia Supreme Court. Arguments in the appeal are scheduled to be heard on Monday at 2 p.m.
The Supreme Court Courtroom is at 40 Capitol Square on the sixth floor of the State Judicial Building in Atlanta. Coweta Senior Assistant District Attorney Kevin McMurry prosecuted the case in Coweta Superior Court. McMurry said, "It was a difficult case to try, but we believe the law is solidly on our side and look forward to arguing our case before the Georgia Supreme Court." McMurry said he would be presenting oral arguments for the state on Monday. The prosecution's case was based on convincing the jury McNaughton lied to investigators about his whereabouts on the day his wife was killed. Prosecutors presented phone logs, computer records and eyewitness testimony that contradicted McNaughton's claims and showed he was still in Coweta County when he made phone calls to his wife claiming to be visiting his mother in Atlanta. Those calls -- which were recorded on telephone answering devices and played for the jury -- were in conflict with phone records that showed some of the calls were being relayed off cell phone towers just a few miles from the McNaughton home at the time he claimed to be in Atlanta. Computer records showed that a home computer normally used by McNaughton was used after McNaughton claimed to have left Coweta County. McNaughton, speaking in his own defense, said the computer usage logs showed his wife was using a computer at the home and was still alive at 2 p.m., when McNaughton claimed to be in Atlanta. McNaughton's defense said prosecutors and investigators identified McNaughton as the prime suspect just hours after the crime was committed and never followed leads that might have led to other suspects. Prosecution witnesses -- including three of McNaughton's former wives -- testified to abuse and threats by McNaughton. The prosecution produced photographs of Cathy McNaughton taken on Feb. 16, 2006, in which Cathy McNaughton exhibited bruises and scrapes she told several people were inflicted by Alec McNaughton during a fight at the couple's home. MacNaughton called Coweta 911 on Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009, to report he had arrived at the couple's north Coweta home to find his wife "unresponsive and bleeding." Coweta Emergency Medical Service and Coweta Sheriff's Office deputies arrived on the scene and located Cathy McNaughton in a back room of the residence. She was pronounced dead at the scene, and her body was transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Atlanta crime lab for autopsy. Autopsy results listed McNaughton's official cause of death as "sharp force injuries to the torso," according to Coweta County Coroner Ray Yeager. Authorities said the victim was stabbed 20-30 times, the majority of the wounds inflicted post-mortem. The case got the attention of the national entertainment industry and was the basis for an episode of the CBS TV program "48 Hours." According to Supreme Court documents, the key issue in this case is similar transaction evidence. McNaughton's attorney argues the trial court was wrong to allow in the testimony of his three former wives and a fellow jail inmate, saying in a filing that there were insufficient similarities between the crime charged and the "similar transactions," and some of the incidents occurred too long ago to be admissible. McNaughton's attorney also claims the trial court also erred in admitting hearsay statements that violated McNaughton's right to confrontation. "Because the State's case against Appellant was largely circumstantial, and predicated largely on unrelated crimes evidence regarding his prior domestic abuse of his former wives, and hearsay regarding his wife's purported plans to divorce him, the admission of the similar transaction and prior difficulties evidence constituted harmful error," his attorney argues in briefs. The state argues the trial court properly allowed in the similar transaction evidence. "The ultimate issue in determining the admissibility of evidence of other crimes is not mere similarity but relevance to the issues in the trial of the case," the district attorney argues in briefs. Both the state Supreme Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals "have recognized that similar transaction evidence regarding violence toward family members may be relevant to a crime against another family member because of the special relationship and interaction among family members and spouses." In this case, as the trial court noted, all the incidents with his [McNaughton's] ex-wives "occurred at a time that the marital relationship was stressed and Appellant was either separated from his spouse or on the brink of divorce," the state contends. The trial court also did not err in admitting hearsay statements of the deceased victim. All of the witnesses, except the mental health nurse, had close personal relationships with Cathy, and there was no evidence that any had a motive to fabricate the statements, the State contends. McNaughton is represented by attorney Jennifer Trieshmann. Attorneys for the State include Peter Skandalakis, District Attorney, Kevin McMurry, Asst. D.A., Samuel Olens, Attorney General, Mary Beth Westmoreland, Dep. A.G., Paula Smith, Sr. Asst. A.G. and Sara Sahni, Asst. A.G.

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