Michael Curry found guilty of murder

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comApril 27, 2011 

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The jury today found Michael Curry guilty of hacking his pregnant wife and two children to death with a bush ax in 1985.

The outcome ended a trial for which Ann Curry’s family had waited 25 years, since the stormy August evening they learned 24-year-old Ann and her two children were slain in their 5433 Rockhurst Drive home.

After the verdict was announced, defense attorney Bob Wadkins renewed his earlier motion for a directed verdict of acquittal. That means Judge John Allen would set the jury's verdict aside, finding the evidence insufficient to justify it.

Allen earlier had taken Wadkins' motion under advisement, but had not denied it. The judge today said attorneys would argue that motion later at Curry's sentencing.

Wadkins said other defense options include making a motion for a new trial or appealing to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Curry faced six counts of murder in the gruesome homicides that shocked Columbus. Acting on evidence compiled by cold-case investigators, a grand jury in 2009 indicted him on two counts of malice murder and two counts of felony murder for each of the three victims. He was arrested May 20, 2009, at his home in Dalton, Ga., where he settled after moving from Columbus following the deaths of his wife, daughter Erika, 4, and son Ryan, 20 months.

Ann Curry was eight months’ pregnant, and Curry initially faced charges of feticide in the death of the baby to be named Tyler, but those charges later were dropped.

Curry reported finding his family slain when he got home from work at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 29, 1985, the Thursday before Labor Day. When police questioned him that evening, he told them he had spent 3 ½ hours that morning shopping for a fan for The Bradley Center, where he worked. A receipt showed he bought the small fan at the Macon Road Kmart at 12:55 p.m.

His wife and children that day had visited Ann Curry’s parents, Jim and Bernice Johnson, at their 4416 Fairview Drive home. Bernice Johnson said her daughter and grandchildren left there at 12:30 p.m. for the drive home. Police timed that drive at 7 minutes. Detectives timed the drive from Rockhurst to the 3200 Macon Road Kmart at 13 minutes.

The defense claimed that under that time frame, Curry could not have killed his family and made it to Kmart by 12:55 p.m.

Prosecutors pointed out that police timing the road trips traveled the posted speed limit. They said Ann Curry likely left her mother's house earlier than Bernice Johnson thought, giving Curry time to ambush them when they got home, rush to Kmart and buy the first fan he saw. A Kmart cashier recalled that he was sweating profusely, though the store was kept so cold workers often wore sweaters.

Closing arguments

Here’s a recap of closing arguments in the case:

District Attorney Julia Slater said Michael Curry in 1985 was a 27-year-old faithless husband desperate to escape a joyless marriage and a growing young family he could not afford, and he was the only suspect with a motive for killing his 20-month-old son.

Defense attorney Bob Wadkins argued that Slater is asking jurors to draw conclusions that can’t be established by the facts of the case. One fact jurors should never forget is that prosecutors can’t say with any certainty when Ann Curry and her two children got home on Aug. 29, 1985.

She and her children may still have been alive when Michael Curry made a purchase at Kmart at 12:55 p.m. that day, Wadkins said.

“This is the one fact you must keep in your minds at all times,” he said.

Slater told the jury the totality of the circumstances points to no other suspect but Curry. She emphasized these elements of the case:

-- Curry was having financial troubles and had told a coworker with whom he was having an affair that he could not afford a divorce and child support for two kids, plus the third child his eight-months’ pregnant wife was expecting. After the homicides, he collected their life insurance benefits.

-- He could not account for the 3½ hours he was gone the day of the homicides, having left his job at The Bradley Center at 9:40 a.m. to shop for a fan, which he didn’t buy until 12:55 p.m., returning to work about 1:10 p.m. Slater noted also that on an erasable vehicle checkout board in Curry’s office at The Bradley Center, his reserving a car at 9:40 a.m. to go to Kmart the day of the slayings had been erased the next day, though older reservations still were posted.

-- Curry knew his wife was to take Erika shopping to get a gift for a birthday party she was to attend that evening. Slater said Curry that morning may have gone to Sears where his wife was shopping with his daughter, as he later told police he went there to look at fans. Slater alleged he then went to his house and waited for his wife to return with the children.

-- Curry reported finding the bodies when he got home from work about 5:30 p.m., but under questioning the day of the homicides, he at one point told police he went in his front door “this morning.” He told detectives he unlocked and entered the front door that evening because he saw a yellow circular tucked in the storm door. That flyer was found on the bed in the master bedroom.

-- Slater said Curry likely donned coveralls to avoid being hit by blood as he killed his wife and kids, but after adding that extra layer, he then had to wait in the hot house for them to arrive. A cashier at Kmart recalled that he was sweating profusely when he bought the fan.

-- Slater said Curry staged a break-in by smashing a window pane beside a rear door’s deadbolt lock, but that door still was locked when police arrived. Most of the glass shards were caught in an exterior storm door, but a few fell to the floor inside, landing upright in front of the door that swung open to the inside. Detectives decided the door was not opened after the glass was smashed.

-- A white plastic trash bin was overturned so close to a door leading from the kitchen to the driveway that the door could not have been opened after the slayings, so the front door was the only available exit. Curry told police he had to unlock that door to go in when he came home from work. Slater said only someone with a key would need to stage a break-in by smashing the rear-door window.

-- Nothing was stolen from the house, nor were any closets or drawers rifled through, as a burglar would have done looking for valuables. Curry told police he dumped out his wife’s purse on a den chair by her body when he got home, for no reason he could recall. Slater contends he did that during the homicides to fake a robbery, but later remembered he had neglected to wipe his fingerprints off. He also did not bother to open a second red purse that was in his wife’s black purse, she said. The red purse was a toy Ryan liked, and it contained nothing of value, which Curry, unlike a burglar, would have known, she said.

-- Curry didn’t behave like a loving husband and father, Slater said, as evidenced by his mother-in-law’s testimony that Ann Curry told her she would need a ride to the hospital when she went into labor, because Curry wouldn’t take her. Besides having an affair and going out for drinks with friends while his pregnant wife stayed home with two kids and health complications from her third pregnancy, he didn’t act like a caring family man when he discovered the bodies, Slater said: He did not call 911. He did not check to see if anyone was still alive. He never got close enough to the bodies to get any blood on himself. The bush ax Curry had bought for yard work and stowed in a rear storage room had no fingerprints on it. The killer left it lying in the den by Ann and Ryan.

-- Only the father who wanted to eliminate his entire family had a motive to kill Ryan, Slater said. No intruder would have needed to kill a toddler who could not have identified him.

Slater said Curry slaughtered his wife and kids, locked the front door on the way out, and on his way to Kmart discarded whatever coveralls or other clothes he had worn when he killed his family.

She concluded by telling the jury that if found innocent, Curry would never face trial again: “This is it. This is the only chance to try this case.”

Defense cites doubt

Wadkins pointed out that had Curry had any blood on him, prosecutors would have cited that as evidence of his guilt. The prosecution’s timeline doesn’t work, he said:

If Ann Curry left her parents’ house at 12:30 p.m. and got home at 12:37 p.m. -- if she went straight home -- and Michael Curry was in line at Kmart to buy a fan at 12:45 p.m., then he had only 8 minutes to kill his family, get cleaned up and go to Kmart. As for staging a break-in, Wadkins said: “Somebody else could have staged it to make it look like Mike did it. Who knows?”

Wadkins was the second defense attorney to address the jury in closing arguments. The first was Moffett Flournoy, who stressed that prosecutors must prove each element of their circumstantial case beyond a reasonable doubt, so if jurors have any doubt about Curry’s guilt based on reason, they must acquit him.

They should not let the gruesome crime-scene photos they were shown drive them to a guilty verdict based on emotion, he said: “That’s not evidence that my client committed these crimes.”

District Attorney Julia Slater said Michael Curry in 1985 was a 27-year-old faithless husband desperate to escape a joyless marriage and a growing young family he could not afford, and he was the only suspect with a motive for killing his 20-month-old son.

Defense attorney Bob Wadkins argued that Slater is asking jurors to draw conclusions that can’t be established by the facts of the case. One fact jurors should never forget is that prosecutors can’t say with any certainty when Ann Curry and her two children got home on Aug. 29, 1985.

She and her children may still have been alive when Michael Curry made a purchase at Kmart at 12:55 p.m. that day, Wadkins said.

“This is the one fact you must keep in your minds at all times,” he said.

Before they were butchered in their 5433 Rockhurst Drive home, Ann Curry, 4-year-old daughter Erika and 20-month-old Ryan visited her parents’ house at 4416 Fairview Drive. Her mother Bernice Johnson thought it was about 12:30 p.m. when her daughter left saying she wanted to rest an aching leg and give the kids a nap.

Police later timed the drive from Fairview to Rockhurst at 7 minutes, and the drive from Rockhurst to the Macon Road Kmart at 13 minutes. Wadkins maintains Curry had no time to commit the crimes.

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