A hearing today on Michael Curry’s upcoming trial in the 1985 bush-ax slayings of his pregnant wife and two children focused on remarks from Curry’s mother Joyce and his wife Ann Curry’s mother, Bernice Johnson.
Curry’s defense team sought to suppress what it called “hearsay” evidence from Johnson, who during an inquest one year after the heinous Aug. 29, 1985, slayings of her 24-year-old daughter and grandchildren Erika, 4, and Ryan, 20 months, said that when Ann Curry visited her the day of the homicides, she in leaving her parents’ Fairview Drive residence said she was hurrying home with the children because her leg was hurting and Erika needed a nap.
Attorney Robin King with the public defender’s office representing Michael Curry challenged whether such testimony would be “trustworthy” at trial, noting Johnson also testified at the inquest that her daughter didn’t burden her parents with personal travails. Johnson at the inquest said that if her daughter had marital problems, she would have consulted her pastor or friends at her church, not her parents.
Prosecutor Crawford Seals countered that Ann Curry’s remark the day she left her parents’ house was “inconsequential,” not comparable to confiding marriage issues: “There’s nothing confidential about this,” he said, noting that Ann Curry, who was eight-months’ pregnant, weeks earlier had been hospitalized because of blood clots in her legs. She had no reason to lie about her leg hurting or about Erika’s needing a nap, he said.
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Muscogee Superior Court Judge John Allen said he was inclined to side with the prosecution, as what Ann Curry reportedly told her mother seemed a “nondescript, innocuous statement,” the weighing of which required no in-depth analysis of a mother-daughter relationship. The question would be what relevance it had to the case at trial, he said.
“I just have to reserve ruling on that matter,” the judge said. It would have to be considered in the context of the trial, he said: “I can’t determine that in the abstract.”
Seals assumed the defense wanted that testimony suppressed because of questions about the timing of the homicides. Johnson had told investigators Ann Curry and the children left her house about 12:30 or 12:45 p.m. Michael Curry told police he spent that morning shopping for a fan for The Bradley Center, where he worked, and produced a receipt showing he bought the fan at the Macon Road Kmart at 12:55 p.m. Witnesses said he was back at work by 1:10 p.m.
Curry reported finding his family slain in their Rockhurst Drive residence when he got home from work about 5:30 p.m. that day. Seals said the Curry and Johnson homes were about 3 miles apart.
Judge Allen today said he found more merit to a second defense motion to suppress any evidence seized in a search of Curry’s home on Oct. 14, 2008. Authorities were looking for a letter that Curry’s then ex-wife Susan Curry told police Joyce Curry had written her son in May of that year.
In the letter, the mother reportedly told her son that she had cancer, and when she died, only one other person would know about his wife and two children.
Public Defender Bob Wadkins, Curry’s lead attorney, challenged the search warrant as insufficient and sought to suppress any evidence seized. The general statement Susan Curry told police was in the letter would not incriminate Michael Curry, and because he and Susan Curry were in the midst of a divorce at the time, her reliability was questionable, he said.
Also the law excludes using tangential “private papers” as evidence against a defendant, because it violates the Fifth Amendment principle that a defendant cannot be compelled to testify against himself. Such evidence is admissible only if it’s the “instrument” of a crime, Wadkins said: For example, a drug dealer’s ledger of illicit sales.
District Attorney Julia Slater said that of a sheaf of documents seized from Curry’s home, only about 14 pages constituted personal papers “in which Mr. Curry’s recording his own thoughts.” Letters other people wrote to Curry would not meet the Fifth Amendment standard for private papers, she said.
Allen said he was inclined to side with the defense on this issue, finding the search warrant’s basis “clearly insufficient on its face.” The estranged wife had not seen the letter in months and could not specify it was in Curry’s home, he noted. After the search, she told police the letter had been destroyed.
Getting evidence from that search admitted at Curry’s trial could be a challenge, he said: “It’s an uphill battle for the state.”
The trial has been set for April 18. Michael Curry was not charged with the slayings for 24 years, and was living in Dalton, Ga., when authorities arrested him May 20, 2009, after a grand jury indicted him on evidence assembled by cold-case investigators. He since has been held in the Muscogee County jail. Allen set his bond at $300,000 — $100,000 for each of the three victims.