Witness refuses to testify in Lott trial
Sept. 29, 2009 at 4:29 a.m.
Updated Sept. 30, 2009 at 4:30 a.m.
The threat of six months in jail and a $500 fine did not compel a woman to testify in her co-defendant's murder trial Tuesday.
Amanda Jo Walters earlier this year said she listened while Stanford Harvey and Bruce Hughes killed 42-year-old Melba Lott in March 2006. Harvey, Hughes and Walters planned to rob Lott, under the guise of selling her crack, Walters testified in Hughes' trial. Hughes was convicted of capital murder in February.
Walters is also charged in the death, but she has not yet gone to trial.
Lott was found dead in her bloody apartment in March 2006. Initially, her death was ruled a drug overdose, but after a second autopsy in 2008, her death was attributed to homicidal violence.
Walters, 21, appeared at 45-year-old Harvey's capital murder trial Tuesday, agitated and uncooperative.
She answered a few questions while the jury was outside the courtroom. She admitted to using drugs and a history of bipolar disorder.
Once District Attorney Steve Tyler asked about the night she previously said Lott died, Walters stopped talking.
Tyler asked if Hughes, Harvey and Walters met at the Economy Inn that night and smoked crack.
"I'm not testifying," she said.
Judge Robert Cheshire told Walters she could not assert her rights not to testify and whatever she said could not be used against her in her own case. If she did not talk, Cheshire said, she could be held in contempt of court.
Tyler could find no way for the jury to hear the story she had told in earlier interviews. Tyler could not read back Walters' statements from Hughes' trial, because that would violate Harvey's right to confront his accuser, Cheshire said.
After Walters' testimony, Cheshire sent the jury out of the room and again warned the witness she must testify. A hearing will be set to decide if Walters will be cited for contempt charges each time she did not answer a question or only once, Cheshire said.
The defense called Hughes as its only witness. Hughes spoke voluntarily, after he was warned his statements could be used in his pending appeal.
Hughes, 41, said he did not know Walters or Harvey.
He and Lott celebrated Valentines Day in 2006 with an all-night crack binge, Hughes said. The next afternoon, the couple began fighting when Lott tried to take his crack because she smoked faster.
She attacked him with a knife, Hughes said, and he broke it. The bloody fight continued for about half an hour and Hughes knocked her down and begged Lott not to get up and fight, he said. Hughes left Lott lying on the ground and cursing him, he said.
Two weeks latter, Hughes said he left Victoria and returned to Houston. About a year after that, an old acquaintance told Hughes the police were looking for him because a woman had died.
That was the first Hughes said he heard of Lott's death.
"It really hurts me that he's being convicted in the wrong," Hughes said of Harvey. "That is an innocent man. I am a guilty man."