Ga. Supreme Court upholds woman's conviction in murder scheme

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comJune 2, 2014 

The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of a Marion County woman who with her husband murdered a roommate in Mauk and marked the body to make the homicide look like a hate crime.

Donna Slaughter told investigators she creeped up behind and shot 21-year-old Michael Haegele in the back of the head May 6, 2010, because she was jealous that Haegele and her husband Jason Slaughter were having a homosexual affair.

But authorities decided Jason Slaughter wanted Haegele dead, too, because he had made himself the beneficiary of an online life-insurance policy he’d bought on Haegele, whose death marked the second time Slaughter tried such a ruse, they said.

Having met Slaughter online, Haegele moved from St. Louis, Mo., to live with the couple in a trailer in Mauk. He lived there about a year before children on a school bus saw his body May 7, 2010, alongside Butler Mill Road in Macon County, where the Slaughters had dumped it.

The body bore no identification, and was marked with slurs such as “fag,” “KKK” and “hell.” Haegele’s identity remained a mystery until Slaughter, hoping to collect the insurance, called authorities to say the body they’d found must be his missing roommate.

Investigators searching the trailer found love letters the two men had sent each other and the $500,000 life-insurance policy, and arrested Jason Slaughter. Donna Slaughter later insisted that she had killed Haegele, not her husband. She said she got a gun from her bedroom, put one bullet in it, crouched behind a couch on which Haegele was sitting and shot him from behind. After pushing him to the floor, she and her spouse loaded Haegele’s body into a big plastic bin to collect the blood.

Besides writing epithets on the body to make the homicide seem a hate crime, Donna Slaughter also hit it with a hammer to give the appearance of a beating. After dusk, they loaded the body into a small red pickup and drove about 30 miles from their Palm Drive home to dump it at the county line, where a witness saw the vehicle and later described it.

The Slaughters were tried separately. On Nov. 1, 2012, a jury found Donna Slaughter guilty of murder, concealing a death, tampering with evidence and using a firearm to commit a crime. She was sentenced to life in prison.

Jason Slaughter was convicted Aug. 15, and given the same sentence, with the result that each will spend at least 40 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.

In her appeal, Donna Slaughter claimed the judge should have declared a mistrial when the jury saw a video recording of her interview with investigators, during which a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent asked her if she’d had a polygraph test, and she replied that she had. The results of the test were not discussed.

Polygraph tests are not admissible as evidence in a trial.

When this came up during the trial, the judge stopped the presentation of evidence to instruct the jury to disregard the polygraph reference.

The Georgia Supreme Court said that since the test results were not mentioned, the revelation was not prejudicial, so “she failed to show that a mistrial was essential to her right to a fair trial, especially here where the trial court gave an immediate curative instruction admonishing the jury to disregard the reference to the polygraph test.”

Jason Slaughter had two policies from Household Life Insurance Company. Besides Haegele’s life, Jason Slaughter on June 15, 2007, bought a policy on Christopher P. Masters, a 22-year-old who was shot in the back of the head on Dec. 14, 2007, in New Castle County, Del.

There Jason Slaughter had told police Masters was killed during a home invasion in which Slaughter also was hit by a blast of shotgun pellets. The beneficiary of Masters' policy also was Jason Slaughter, but it never paid off because Slaughter, under suspicion of having committed the homicide, never tried to collect, investigators said.

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