By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — A state's witness in a murder trial stopped testifying Wednesday and told the judge the pressure of her involvement in the case was "just too much."
Armentress Frederick-Hill, 39, was in the Clayton County Jail infirmary with a pregnant Kajul Harvey after Harvey's arrest for murder in the June 2011 beating death of her mother, Alena Marble. Frederick-Hill took the stand to testify about information Harvey shared with her inside the infirmary.
However, her memory appeared faulty at times under direct-examination by Clayton County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers. Powers asked her if she remembered Harvey scooping water from the toilet so she could talk to her boyfriend, Latoris Grovner, also locked up and charged with Marble's death.
"That was so long ago and I'm on so many medications right now, a lotta drugs, a lotta drugs," said Frederick-Hill. "Whatever I told detectives then is what I remembered and what was told to me."
After answering a series of queries from Powers with "I guess" or "I don't recall," public defender Lloyd Matthews cross-examined Frederick-Hill. Matthews tried to get her to admit that she was trying to get a deal in exchange for information about Harvey.
"I was in jail for violating parole," she said. "I couldn't get a deal with that."
Instead, Frederick-Hill said she was concerned because a child was involved. Harvey's 4-year-old daughter told police she witnessed the attack on her grandmother. Frederick-Hill testified that the jailed Harvey was worried about her daughter.
"A child was involved," she said. "I have children."
When Matthews questioned the validity of her overall testimony, Frederick-Hill addressed Judge Matthew Simmons.
"This is too much for me, I don't remember," she said. "Your honor, this is too much. I had a mental breakdown, my arm was dislocated and they put me in the infirmary."
Simmons told her to do the best she could to continue answering questions. Matthews asked her if she had mental issues.
"I do," she said, before leaving the stand.
Grovner was convicted in January of the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter in Marble's beating death. Simmons sentenced Grovner to 30 years in prison. He is not expected to testify during Harvey's trial.
Assistant District Attorney Deah Warren told jurors Tuesday that Marble was beaten with a vodka bottle and a saucepan. Several of her teeth had been knocked out and were found in pieces in and around the sofa. Grovner wrapped Marble in several blankets, placed her in the trunk of her Honda Civic, drove it across the street to another apartment complex and left her. Warren said a medical examiner will testify Thursday morning that Marble was still alive but traumatically disfigured when she was put inside the trunk.
Neighbors and police discovered the body by following a trail of blood spilling out from the car and down the pavement of the parking lot.
After killing Marble, Grovner tried to access Marble's bank account. Surveillance cameras caught him and Harvey on tape at two ATM machines and inside a Bank of America, said prosecutors. Two bank employees took the stand Wednesday to testify about the couple's visit to the Southlake branch.
Harvey isn't suspected of carrying out the attack on her mother but under Georgia law is charged as the alleged killer because prosecutors said she knew about the plot, supported it and did nothing to stop it. Prosecutors allege she was inside the apartment during the killing, as were her two small children and adult sister, who is disabled to the point she cannot speak and wears diapers.
Clayton County police Detective Joanne Southerland also testified Wednesday, sparring briefly with Matthews under cross-examination.
"I think you're ad-libbing," she said. "(Frederick-Hill) didn't say anything about contributing to justice or anything like that."
Matthews told jurors during his opening statement that they would hear from Harvey but declined Wednesday to say if she will take the stand after the state closes its case Thursday.
A medical examiner is expected to be the state's last witness Thursday.