The defense for accused murderer Stanley Robertson admitted to the jury in its opening arguments that their client killed Annie Toliver in August 2010.
What the 45-year-old's lawyers hope to prove is that there is reasonable doubt whether Robertson, by the letter of the law, kidnapped the mother of his ex-girlfriend.
That will be the difference in whether the prosecution can seek the death penalty for Robertson, a College Station resident.
Prosecutors allege Robertson killed Toliver after kidnapping her from the College Station Walmart parking lot in August 2010. Authorities believe he dumped her body at a Fort Worth shopping center parking lot.
Robertson was arrested after leading Fort Worth authorities on a chase, one that ended with Robertson ramming his SUV head-on into a patrol car on a highway.
Among the witnesses on the first day of the trial were Toliver's close friend, Helen Burns. She testified that she was on the phone with Toliver as she sat in the Walmart parking lot when she heard a gasp and the call disconnected.
Later, Burns said she received a call from Toliver's phone. Robertson was on the other end, and claimed he had killed Toliver. Burns said Robertson claimed he did it because of Annie's daughter, Tammy Toliver, who was Robertson's ex-girlfriend.
Robertson had been arrested in July 2010, accused of assaulting Tammy at their College Station apartment. He was out of jail on bond just 13 days before the murder of Annie Toliver. Robertson and Tammy had been in a long-standing relationship.
Burns said Annie and her son, Curtis, had accompanied Robertson to get money on August 13, 2010, and that he had said he was sorry for the trouble he had caused the family.
District Attorney Jarvis Parsons and Assistant D.A. Brian Price will argue for the death penalty if they obtain a conviction from the jury of seven women and seven men. Two of the 14 are alternates.
Robertson's court appointed attorneys are John Wright, a Burnet attorney with the Regional Public Defenders Office, and Huntsville-based Frank Blazek. Wright worked in Huntsville prior to moving west.
The defense team will also argue that Robertson had a troubled life, and that he is mentally retarded, which would make him ineligible for the death penalty were he to be convicted of capital murder.
That charge applies when a murder and another felony like kidnapping is committed. The death penalty is not an available punishment for a convicted murder, just for capital murder.
85th District Court Judge J.D. Langley is presiding over the case.
Tammy Toliver's daughter was among those who testified Monday morning. Robertson had allegedly called Tammy while he was driving to Fort Worth. The daughter told the jury she had heard her grandmother, Annie, moaning in the background of the call.
In its opening statement, prosecutors contended that Toliver died of blood loss after being stabbed 30 times. None of those stabs were fatal, just the loss of blood from them. She likely survived for hours after the initial attack and drive to Fort Worth, the State believes.
Clothing worn by Toliver was presented to the jury, each covered in blood, each with holes. The shirt alone had 20 cuts in it.
While on the road to Fort Worth, Robertson allegedly called Tammy Toliver. Tammy's sister-in-law testified to hearing Robertson on the call talking about hurting Annie. Among the statements from Robertson relayed by the sister-in-law:
- "I got your momma and she's gonna die today."
- that Tammy should get a black dress because she was going to be going to a funeral
- that Tammy should be happy that he let her brother Curtis go, because he had planned on killing them both
The sister-in-law also said it was clear to her that Annie Toliver was being held against her will and was not able to escape Robertson. If the jury believes this theory, kidnapping would all-but-assuredly be added to the murder charge to elevate the crime in their minds to capital murder.