Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Army reservist Tashawnea Hill, the alleged victim of an attack at a Morrow Cracker Barrel restaurant, testified Wednesday, that she, and her daughter, have been having nightmares since the incident occurred just over a year ago.
A Poulan, Ga. man, Troy Dale West, Jr., is on trial charged with aggravated assault, battery, disorderly conduct, false imprisonment, and cruelty to children, for the attack on Hill. He is accused of beating, and kicking her, in the foyer of a Cracker Barrel restaurant, in September 2009.
The trial continues to attract national attention because Hill, an African-American, alleges that West, who is Caucasian, yelled racial slurs at her, and used expletives to describe her daughter, before, and during, the attack.
Onlookers packed the courtroom during the first day of testimony.
West's attorney, Tony Axam, said in his opening statement, that West was justified, because the attack was precipitated by Hill allegedly spitting on him, and his wife.
"She [Hill] made him act in a way that he should not have," the attorney said.
During three and a half hours of testimony, Hill denied she spat on West.
In cross examination, Axam pressed Hill about incidents where she has allegedly attacked, or threatened to attack -- or even kill -- other people.
Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson told jurors, that she and Axam expect to finish presenting evidence by Friday.
Earlier during her testimony, Hill choked up, and repeatedly dabbed her eyes with a tissue, as she talked about how she thought of her daughter during the attack, even though she said much of the attack was a blur for her. She said she curled up in a corner of the foyer during the attack, to protect herself.
"I was shocked by the first punch," Hill said. "Troy West stood over me and started kicking me, and I heard my daughter screaming 'Mommy! Mommy!' ... I was confused, because I didn't know what happened. My first thought was to protect myself, for her sake."
Several witnesses testified that West, and his wife, Sharon, were coming out of the Cracker Barrel, as Hill and her daughter were entering the restaurant.
West, and his wife, were staying at a nearby hotel, across Ga. Hwy. 54, from the restaurant. His wife was seeing a therapist in the Atlanta area, to recover from a car accident three years ago, Axam said.
Hill took her daughter to the restaurant after a ballet class in Riverdale. Hill said she had bought her daughter a "queen" costume the youth wanted from Cracker Barrel, earlier in the day.
"She was excited about getting the costume," Hill said. "I didn't want to go to Cracker Barrel. I didn't really like the ambiance of the restaurant, but it was where she wanted to go."
She later testified that her daughter raced in the front door, and she was nearly hit by West, who was leaving with his wife. She said she told West, he needed to be more careful after her daughter was almost hit.
Axam told jurors that his client will testify, at some point during the trial, that he behaved poorly during the incident. "He will say he did not act with the angel in him," Axam said. "He will tell you that called her everything he could think of."
Axam also argued, West was justified because the attack was precipitated by Hill spitting on him, and his wife.
Hill denied intentionally spitting on West, however, when Axam played a recording of a phone conversation, that Hill had with a representative of Cracker Barrel about the incident, Hill could be heard telling the representative, "maybe I did" spit on West.
McDonough resident Todd Oswalt, a witness to the attack, testified in court, that he saw, Hill "hock a loogie" on West, but not his wife. Axam showed jurors the security video of the attack, but the actions taking place were not clearly visible in the gallery of the courtroom.
Axam, during his cross examination, attacked Hill's character, by grilling her about other incidents, including a previous case in which she admittedly accepted a plea deal for keying another woman's car; a 2005 incident at a Bed, Bath and Beyond, in Morrow, where she allegedly threatened to "cut" another woman, and allegations that she threatened to kill two 15-year old boys whom she allegedly believed had burglarized her home earlier this year.
Hill testified that her now-8-year old daughter was terrified by the attack.
"I really just feel like I failed as a mom, to protect her, because she was so scared," the mother said.
Hill said her daughter has struggled, emotionally, since the attack happened. She said the youth's grades have slipped in school, she now gets afraid whenever she sees any white man with a ponytail, has begun hitting male students in her classes, and prefers to sleep with her mother.
She said the youth blames herself for the incident occurring, and is still seeing a psychologist because of the attack.
"She broke down [right after the attack] and started crying 'Mommy, I'm so sorry I picked Cracker Barrel,'" Hill said.
When the daughter took the stand, clutching a stuffed tiger, she said she felt bad that she could not protect her mother. "I feel bad that I wasn't there to help her," the child said.