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Murder trial begins in teacher's death

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

A Henry County jury will hear recorded statements from a Gwinnett County man, believed to have strangled his schoolteacher fiancee to death.

Jury selection began in Henry County Superior Court Monday, in the murder trial of Dana Gregory McFarlane, 36, of Snellville. He is accused of killing 34-year-old Kinaya Schenese Byrd, inside her home on Tramore Drive, on Feb. 12.

Henry County Police believe McFarlane, a truck driver, strangled Byrd following an argument regarding text messages on the woman's cell phone, and cut her neck just before Byrd died.

Byrd was a teacher at River's Edge Elementary School in Clayton County. McFarlane allegedly argued with Byrd in her front yard, then brought her back into her house, where he reportedly strangled, and cut her neck twice, according to police.

During a preliminary hearing in February, Henry County Police Detective Capers Green said Byrd's neighbor, Lynwood Smith, told authorities about a "commotion" Smith heard outside his front lawn, on the day of Byrd's death.

"[Smith] looked outside and saw Miss Byrd on the ground, and Mr. McFarlane on top of her," Green testified in February.

Green, in the preliminary hearing, said Smith attempted to confront McFarlane, and saw the suspect "dragging" Byrd back into her house.

"Mr. Smith said he saw a disturbing look on Miss Byrd's face, like she was scared," added Green. "He asked her if she needed any help, or anything like that. Mr. McFarlane told him to 'shut up, everything's fine,' drug her back into her house, and shut the door."

Police found a seven-inch butcher's knife, with blood on it, in the kitchen sink at Byrd's home, according to Green.

In a pre-trial hearing Monday, former Henry County Police Detective Marc McGowan, now an officer with the Sandy Springs Police Department, testified that McFarlane flagged down a Rockdale Sheriff's deputy on the day of the alleged incident, and confessed to the crime.

Henry County Police then transported McFarlane to the agency's Fairview precinct for questioning, McGowan said. The officer testified that he advised McFarlane, who said he could not read, of his rights, and McFarlane agreed to talk to police.

The prosecution presented videotaped statements made by the defendant, in hopes of having them admitted into evidence for the jury's consideration. On the video, McFarlane admitted to entering Byrd's home, with a key, while the victim was not home, and waiting for her to arrive. McFarlane said he became upset by explicit messages on Byrd's cell phone, and confronted her.

Senior Judge Hal Craig, who is presiding over the trial, said the tapes will be allowed as evidence for the jury.

McFarlane was indicted April 1, on charges of malice murder, felony murder, kidnapping with bodily injury and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony. He has remained in the Henry County Jail without bond since his arrest, according to jail records.

District Attorney Tommy Floyd did not comment on the case, saying it would be "inappropriate to comment at this time." McFarlane's attorney, Public Defender Gary Bowman, maintained claims made by the defense in the initial days of the investigation. Bowman said McFarlane's alleged actions do not warrant a murder charge by police.

"This man voluntarily gave them his statements, and told them what happened," said Bowman. "This is a case of voluntary manslaughter, not a case of murder."

Opening statements are scheduled to be heard in the trial today, in Superior Court.