By Jason A. Smith
Explicit text messages, and the terms "humanity" and "reason," were the focus of closing arguments in a murder trial involving the death of a Clayton County schoolteacher.
A Henry County Superior Court jury will resume deliberations today, in an effort to determine the fate of Dana Gregory McFarlane, 36, of Snellville. He is accused of killing his fiancee, 34-year-old Kinaya Schenese Byrd.
Senior Judge Hal Craig turned the case over to the jury Thursday, following closing arguments by the prosecution and the defense.
Byrd, a teacher at River's Edge Elementary School in Clayton County, was found dead on Feb. 12. Henry County Police said they found the teacher's body inside her Tramore Drive home, in Stockbridge.
Doug Smith, of the Public Defender's Office, gave closing arguments on behalf of McFarlane, telling jurors that his client "lost it," when he saw sexually explicit text messages on Byrd's cell phone, from another man -- and he killed her.
"This case is about those text messages," Smith said. "He looked at the phone, and saw a bunch of texts from the same number."
The state alleges that McFarlane strangled Byrd, and cut her throat during an argument about the messages.
Smith said McFarlane voluntarily admitted to the killing, when he flagged down a Rockdale County Sheriff's deputy after leaving his fiancee's house.
"He never denied what he did," the defense attorney said. "He didn't run. He told the first officer he saw."
McFarlane is on trial for malice murder, felony murder, kidnapping with bodily injury, and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony. He was indicted April 1, and is being held without bond in the Henry County Jail.
Smith told jurors that Georgia law affirms that Byrd's "adulterous behavior" should be seen by the jury as a mitigating factor that justifies a charge of voluntary manslaughter, not murder.
However, on the prosecution's side, Assistant District Attorney Blair Mahaffey reminded jurors of statements McFarlane made to police on the day of his arrest. McFarlane provided telling insight into his mindset about Byrd, when the defendant said, "If I can't have her, nobody can," according to investigators.
The words "humanity" and "reason" also rang across the courtroom, as Mahaffey tried to argue against a charge of voluntary manslaughter. Mahaffey said, although state law dictates "sudden, violent and irresistible passion" as a basis for a charge of voluntary manslaughter, McFarlane's actions toward Byrd do not support the charge.
"When she ran out the door, that was surely sufficient time for the voice of humanity and reason to overcome this man," said Mahaffey. "But it didn't. He ran out that door and chased her down."
The prosecutor said McFarlane's actions, to which the defendant testified during the trial, displayed an intent to kill Byrd. "When you testify that you choked somebody out until they passed out, and fell on the floor, and you walked into the kitchen, got a knife and slit their throat ... that shows intent to kill that person," said Mahaffey. "He dragged her ... into the house. That's kidnapping, ladies and gentlemen. Then, he cut her throat. That's bodily injury. That's 'guilty.'"
After closing arguments were completed, Public Defender Gary Bowman told the Henry Daily Herald that McFarlane's actions warrant a charge of voluntary manslaughter, instead of murder.
"I still maintain that, but for the text messages, there would not have been a killing," Bowman said. "A man snapped, and when he snapped, he reacted. He wasn't thinking, he wasn't plotting, he didn't have a motive., he didn't have premeditation. He had nothing. He just reacted to the situation."
The jury deliberated for more than three hours Thursday without reaching a verdict. They are scheduled to resume deliberations today.