Michael Curry trial | Week 1 recap: Jury has to answer mother’s question to former son-in-law

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comApril 24, 2011 

Bernice Johnson never liked Michael Curry, the man who so often left her youngest daughter in tears, got her pregnant at age 18 and married her four years before he reported finding her and his two children hacked to death with a bush ax on Aug. 29, 1985.

With Curry now on trial for those homicides, his attorney, Bob Wadkins, asked Johnson her view of him Friday in cross-examination.

“No, I never liked him,” she answered firmly.

She said she’s had three questions for him since her pregnant daughter Ann, granddaughter Erika and grandson Ryan were killed in their 5433 Rockhurst Drive home, shortly after leaving her house: Did he kill Ann and the children? Did he hire someone to kill them? Does he know who killed them?

“He has never, never answered those three questions,” Johnson told District Attorney Julia Slater.

A jury will have to answer her first question after testimony in the week-old trial winds down. The trial resumes Monday and is expected to last a total of two or three weeks.

Arrested by cold-case investigators May 20, 2009, Curry faces six counts of murder -- one of malice murder and one of felony murder for each of the three victims. The first charge means killing with malice aforethought, the second means killing while committing another felony, in this case aggravated assault.

Testimony so far has established this much:

Bernice Johnson cannot pinpoint the time Ann and the children left her 4416 Fairview Drive home for the seven-minute ride to Rockhurst Drive. She last week remembered only that the 11 a.m. to noon TV show “The Price Is Right” was on while she was baby-sitting Ryan, and it was still on when she turned off the TV to play with him. Ann returned from a shopping trip with Erika shortly thereafter, stayed 10 or 11 minutes, and left saying she wanted to go home and give the kids a nap. In previous accounts Johnson has estimated Ann left at 12:30, between 12:15 and 12:30, and no later than 12:45.

Michael Curry, who headed plant maintenance at The Bradley Center near Lakebottom Park, left work at 9:40 a.m. to shop for a fan, bought one at Kmart at 12:55 p.m. and was back at work by 1:10 p.m. He told police he first went to Sears, which was then on Macon Road, then to Montgomery Ward, which was then at Peachtree Mall, and then to the 3200 Macon Road Kmart. Police timed the car trip from Rockhurst Drive to Kmart at 13 minutes.

No blood was found on the clothes Michael Curry was wearing, though he said he walked through the house and knelt by the bodies. Though an investigator had to stay 3 feet away from Erika’s body to avoid the blood, police found no smears or bloody footprints in the house. The bush ax had no fingerprints on it.

Testimony from retired police technician Lewis Stewart and Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren -- who in 1985 was a sergeant in the homicide unit -- revealed the front door apparently was the only one through which the killer could have left. In the kitchen by Erica’s body a white plastic trash bin had overturned, before Erika’s blood hit it, and it was so close to an unlocked door leading from the kitchen to the driveway that the door could not be opened without moving the bin.

A window pane by a deadbolt lock in the door leading from the den to the rear patio was smashed from the inside out. So many shards were caught inside the exterior storm door that Stewart had to step back when pieces showered out as he opened it. Inside the house, pieces of glass landed upright against the den door, which was locked. Police decided no one went through that door after the glass broke.

Curry’s mother, Joyce, testified about a letter she sent her son decades after the killings. Curry’s then-estranged wife saw it and told police it said the mother had cancer and once she died, only one other person would know what happened to the family.

Joyce Curry said she wrote that she had mouth cancer she feared would spread, and once she died, “you’re the only one who’ll know what hell we’ve been through since your family was killed.”

Defense attorneys called Curry’s ex-wife Susan Curry to the stand and showed her 2005 correspondence in which Joyce Curry sent her son a copy of a newspaper editorial-page letter that said at least two people in the United States must know what happened to the family. The ex claimed that was one of two letters she saw, and Michael Curry destroyed both.

Superior Court Judge John Allen has ruled inadmissible evidence police got from Michael Curry’s home with a 2008 search warrant prompted by information from Susan Curry. The judge also decided the jury will not hear from an ex-girlfriend, who was to testify that Curry had a violent temper.

Prosecutors have introduced evidence that for three weeks in August 1985, Curry had an affair with a coworker whose husband confronted the two the Saturday before the slayings at the Manchester Expressway Holiday Inn. After talking to Curry, the husband left, and his wife and Curry stayed overnight. The wife and husband, Pam and Fred Burt, are on the witness list for the trial.

Also on the list is a woman who in 1985 worked as a dancer at what was then The Pillowtalk Lounge. She has said that on the evening before the homicides, a man in the nightclub told her he had killed three people that day, prompting her to call a Phenix City police dispatcher the next day to ask whether three bodies had been found in Columbus.

She made that call the afternoon of Aug. 29, 1985, hours before Curry reported finding the bodies when he got home at 5:30 p.m.

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