Deliberation begins in murder trial
Posted: Friday, August 27, 2010 1:22 pm
Bulletin: The judge was issuing the charge to the jury prior to the start of closing arguments at press time today and jury deliberation began at about 11 a.m. An update about any verdict handed down later today will be posted as breaking news on The Messenger’s website at www.nwtntoday.com.
By CHRIS MENEES
The defense presented its final witness — focusing largely on a bar’s video surveillance — as testimony concluded this morning in the trial of a Union City man charged in the October 2009 death of a South Fulton man, following an altercation at the bar.
The trial of Rolie “Lee” Edmaiston Jr., 35, on charges of second-degree murder and aggravated assault began Thursday morning in Obion County Circuit Court.
The charges stem from the death of 45-year-old David Cranford of South Fulton, who succumbed Oct. 9, 2009, to injuries sustained in an Oct. 5 incident at Pop A Top Bar on East Cheatham Street in Union City.
Two other men charged in the incident — brothers Jeff “Tyler” Woodruff, 27, and Sean Brandon Woodruff, 32, both of South Fulton — pleaded guilty July 30 in Obion County Circuit Court to a felony charge of aggravated assault under a plea agreement that included five-year sentences in the Tennessee Department of Correction.
Edmaiston and the Woodruff brothers were initially charged with aggravated assault after the incident but an upgraded charge of second-degree murder was added against each of them following Cranford’s death. According to Union City police reports and previous court proceedings, Cranford sustained severe head injuries in the bar incident, which allegedly began as an exchange of words that escalated into a fight.
Edmaiston’s trial started at 9 a.m. Thursday with the selection of an eight-man, six-woman jury — which includes two jurors who will be designated as alternates before jury deliberation begins. The jury, seated at 10:20 a.m., was not sequestered during the trial.
Judge Lee Moore from Dyer County is presiding over the proceedings in place of Obion County Circuit Judge Bill Acree.
Edmaiston waived his right to testify on his own behalf and did not take the witness stand.
Edmaiston’s defense attorney, Jeff Smith of Trenton, finished presenting his case this morning with the showing of video surveillance and still photos taken from the video the night of the altercation at Pop A Top Bar.
His final witness — one of only two called by the defense — was Union City police investigator Derrick O’Dell, who pointed to key players in each scene as 27 still photos from video were shown. Several members of Cranford’s family chose to wait outside the courtroom as the surveillance footage was shown.
The video surveillance showed the fight occurred very quickly and lasted only about 21⁄2 minutes. It showed the start of the incident at the bar as Cranford approached the Woodruffs and showed the start of the actual fight as Cranford and Sean Woodruff went to the floor.
However, as the fight escalated, Edmaiston went out of the frame of the video surveillance. There was no surveillance video shot toward the back of the bar where Cranford allegedly sustained severe head injuries when his head was kicked and stomped.
The defense rested its case at 9:45 this morning. Smith had called just one other witness, Union City police Sgt. Tack Simmons Jr., late Thursday afternoon before court recessed for the day.
The first day
Opening statements in the trial started at 10:55 a.m. Thursday, with District Attorney General Tommy Thomas explaining to the jury how Cranford and his brother, Kelly Cranford of Union City, and two other friends, Tom Thompson of Union City and James Burress of Troy, came to be at Pop A Top Bar the night of Oct. 5, 2009.
Thomas said the four men met at Pop A Top and went together to a quail supper at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, then returned to Pop A Top a short time later. He said Kelly Cranford went to place a to-go plate from the supper into his car while the other men went inside the establishment — where David Cranford approached the Woodruffs and Edmaiston at the bar and an argument ensued.
Thomas said one of the Woodruffs grabbed David Cranford and pulled him to the floor. In the meantime, Kelly Cranford came into the bar and tried to pull the Woodruff brother off of his brother, who was on the bar’s concrete floor, and bartender Karen Webster called police and yelled to indicate police were on their way.
According to the DA, the Woodruffs left and Edmaiston allegedly stood over David Cranford while he was on the floor — which he described as concrete with hard tile — and stomped his head. He said witnesses would testify Edmaiston stomped Cranford in the head while he was unconscious.
Thomas said Union City police officer Kyle Kirk was first on the scene and arrived as Cranford was regaining consciousness. He said Cranford got up, waved off ambulance personnel, indicated he didn’t want to press charges and indicated he would call his wife to pick him up.
A few minutes later, though, Cranford’s head began to hurt and it was decided he needed medical treatment. Thomas said the ambulance was called back to the bar and Cranford was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union City and later transferred to Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. He said Cranford’s brain was hemorrhaging and he slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness before he died Oct. 9, 2009.
In his opening statement, Smith said the defense would not disagree much on the facts and said many of the prosecution’s witnesses were also defense witnesses. However, he said there are some small differences that play a large role — adding that the best witness is the bar’s surveillance camera. He said a lot of the incident occurred out of camera range, but he promised jurors would see the fight begin and the exchange of words.
Smith said David Cranford walked into the bar and something was said. He said the Woodruffs and Cranford jumped up and an argument ensued, and he said Edmaiston was at the end of the bar and walked out of camera range. He contended Edmaiston re-entered the picture and tried to break up the fight.
According to Smith, Kelly Cranford was dating the Woodruffs’ mother, Jackie, at the time. He said Edmaiston “had no dog in this fight” and was “just there.”
Smith contended Edmaiston was shown trying to break up the fight and the bartender was trying to stop the fight, with Edmaiston allegedly seen pulling the bartender out of the fracas. He said one of the Woodruffs grabbed Cranford and pulled him off camera range and he said the jury would hear witnesses tell different versions of what happened, making Edmaiston sound horrible in the process.
Smith urged jurors to use the surveillance footage and the facts and to apply the law to render a verdict of not guilty on second-degree murder.
Testimony began shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday when Thomas called the first of the state’s 10 witnesses. He was joined by assistant district attorney Kate Long.
The prosecution’s witnesses included Cranford’s widow, Barbara Cranford; bartender Karen Webster; Cranford’s brother, Kelly Cranford; friends Tom Thompson and James Burress, who accompanied them to the VFW; expert witness Dr. Thomas Deering, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Cranford’s body; Helen Tripp of South Fulton, who was seated at the bar the night of the incident; Tyler Woodruff, one of the two brothers initially charged in the incident; and Union City police officer Kyle Kirk and investigator Derrick O’Dell.
Dr. Deering testified he determined Cranford died of blunt trauma injuries to the head. He said Cranford suffered head injuries and brain damage consistent with being kicked in the head several times with “moderate to severe” force.
Testimony from various witnesses differed somewhat as to who started the fight the night of the incident.
Ms. Webster said Cranford walked up to the younger Woodruff brother, patted him on the back and asked him how he was doing, after which time the two Woodruffs got up. She said she told them there would be no fighting and she somehow ended up on the floor. She said she was picked up by her throat and she thinks it was Edmaiston who helped her up. She called 9-1-1 and yelled that police were on the way.
Ms. Webster said words were exchanged and then David Cranford was kicked and hit while he was on the ground and could not get up. She said Edmaiston joined the fight when Cranford was in a corner on the ground in a fetal position and she did not believe Cranford was conscious. She claimed Edmaiston took his boot and stomped Cranford in the head several times while she was standing just inches away. She said she told Edmaiston to leave Cranford alone and told him to leave, after which time he disappeared.
The bartender said she did not see either of the Woodruffs kick Cranford in the head.
Kelly Cranford said the incident had already started when he came in the back door of Pop A Top Bar. He said his brother and the Woodruffs were exchanging words before David Cranford was wrestled to the ground. He said he was trying to stop the fight, during which time Edmaiston was “stomping and kicking” his brother in the head at the corner booth.
Under questioning by Smith, Kelly Cranford said he and his brother and their friends had one beer each at the VFW. He said when they returned to Pop A Top Bar, the others had been inside two or three minutes before he came inside to find the altercation had started. He said there was an exchange of words and Cranford was getting on his phone when it started, but he does not know who he was calling.
Thompson, Burress and Ms. Tripp all testified that during the incident, they saw Edmaiston kick Cranford in the head more than once while he was down on the floor. Thompson and Burress both testified the Woodruffs were kicking Cranford in his lower extremities.
Tyler Woodruff testified he was at the bar with his brother and Edmaiston when David Cranford came in 15 to 20 minutes later. He said Cranford put his hand on his shoulder and asked what he was doing there as he initiated the exchange of words. He said Cranford asked why the Woodruffs were there on his “turf,” then took his phone out and said he was going to call some people to help handle it.
He said Sean Woodruff grabbed David Cranford and they went to the ground, starting the fight. He said he did not recall ever intentionally kicking Cranford, but he said there was a pile of people and he could have stepped on him. He also could not recall his brother ever having kicked Cranford, but he said he eventually saw Edmaiston do it.
Woodruff said he got Kelly Cranford off his brother, Sean, and turned around to see David Cranford on the ground and Edmaiston kicking him and stomping his head. He said Cranford was not moving or talking.
Woodruff said he, his brother and Edmaiston left the bar and, once they were outside in his vehicle, Edmaiston asked what he had done.
“He seemed remorseful and scared,” Woodruff said, adding that Edmaiston asked what he had done and said he hoped Cranford was alright.
Woodruff added, “I believe this was a horrible accident.”
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 8.27.10