By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — The trial of a woman accused of killing her mother in June 2011 took an explosive turn Thursday morning as a plot to disrupt the proceedings was uncovered.
Clayton County Superior Court Judge Matthew Simmons told accused killer Kajul Harvey she could be bound and gagged if she created a disturbance after learning from a deputy of such a plot.
"I understand that you have made threats inside the holding cell to slap your attorney and create a scene in court," he said. "If you do, you forfeit your right to be in court without shackles and you can be bound and gagged. If your conduct is too outrageous, we can continue without you being present."
Harvey's public defender, Lloyd Matthews, took that opportunity to ask for a mistrial.
"I would move for a mistrial on the theory that her threatening to slap me creates a conflict," he said. "I move for a mistrial and ask the court to assign her other counsel. I can't zealously defend her if she might haul off and pop me during the trial."
Clayton County Chief Deputy Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers objected.
"The defense is trying to induce a mistrial," she said.
"The defendant's own conduct can't induce a mistrial," he said. "Motion denied."
Harvey is accused of murder in the beating death of her mother, Alena "Imani" Marble, June 3, 2011. Prosecutors said Harvey was angry at Marble's attempts to keep her away from her boyfriend and father of her unborn child, Latoris Grovner. Grovner was convicted in January of voluntary manslaughter in Marble's death and is serving a 30-year prison term.
Powers, assisted in the prosecution by Assistant District Attorney Deah Warren and third-year law student Michelle Thompson, told jurors Tuesday that Harvey knew about the plot to kill her mother, was in the apartment when it happened and did nothing to stop Grovner. State's witnesses testified to the couple trying to access Marble's bank account after she was killed.
Grovner beat Marble with a vodka bottle and saucepan before wrapping her up in blankets and putting her in the trunk of her own car. Someone drove the car across the street to another apartment complex and left it there to be discovered by neighbors curious about a trail of blood draining from the trunk.
Another prosecution witness testified that no blood was found inside the car, leading police to believe someone other than the attacker moved the car — possibly Harvey. In another surprise move by the defense, however, Matthews re-called Harvey's sister, Shambria Pearsall, to the stand to testify about a cell phone and car radio faceplate reportedly found inside Marble's home after she died.
Pearsall testified earlier in the trial but was released as a witness and allowed to hear subsequent testimony from others. Outside the presence of the jury, Pearsall told Simmons under oath that she found the items more than two years ago while cleaning her mother's apartment. Pearsall claimed that lead Detective Joanne Southerland showed no interest in getting the items from her.
Powers objected to Pearsall's assessment that the items have blood on them.
"All of a sudden, there's surprise evidence?" said Powers. "She can't testify as to what's on the items, she's not an expert. We haven't been given the opportunity to test these items, no one knows what's on them."
Powers seemed incredulous to just be learning about the items, more than two years after Marble's death and five months after Grovner's trial.
"The first time you mentioned this was yesterday?" Powers asked Pearsall. "Your sister has been in jail since June 2011? During Latoris Grovner's trial, you never mentioned it?"
Matthews said that Pearsall told him about the items Wednesday afternoon and asked for a continuance to examine them.
"I think this evidence impeaches or rebuts one of the state's main witnesses who said there was no blood in the car," he said. "I think this shows there actually was blood in the car. And the cell has texts that were purportedly sent from Imani after she was killed."
Simmons allowed her to testify in front of the jury about the items, saying that it is up to jurors to decide whether or not she's telling the truth.
Pearsall testified that she found the items on top of her mother's china cabinet while the family cleaned the bloodstained apartment the day after Marble was killed. She said she picked them up wearing rubber cleaning gloves and wrapped a glove around them to preserve evidence. She put the items inside a plastic bag and tucked them away inside her car, she testified.
The plastic bag remained inside her car for more than two years, she said.
It will be up to the jury to decide whether they believe Pearsall is being truthful or if the action is a last-ditch effort to save Harvey from conviction.