Jarod Ingram testifies, “I did not kill my wife,” during his trial in the June 2012 stabbing death of his ex-wife Ciara Ingram
Closing arguments Monday in a contentious murder trial involving a mother’s brutal Lakebottom-area slaying focused largely on what her young children saw and heard as they waited outside her apartment on June 2, 2012.
That’s the day prosecutors allege Jarod Ingram stabbed his ex-wife Ciara Ingram three times in the neck in her upstairs bedroom as their 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter waited by a car outside Apt. 206 of The Village on Cherokee, 3113 Cherokee Ave.
Ciara Ingram was 28. Her decomposing body was found the following June 8, when apartment managers went to inspect her home before she was to move out.
They discovered someone had slashed furniture in the apartment and turned the thermostat on the air-conditioner as far down as possible, causing the unit to freeze and lock up.
Police inspecting the scene found a bottle of Clorox on the floor beside the body, on which bleach had been poured. Bleach also was on a sofa downstairs, and on a cloth by the sink in the kitchen. In the sink lay a butcher knife with a 7-inch blade, with the victim’s blood on it. Other cleaning products lay on the floor by an open cabinet.
Prosecutor Wesley Lambertus and defense attorney Mike Reynolds sparred over what the two children actually witnessed while waiting outside, and whether the kids were coached to support the prosecution’s theory of what happened.
The boy, now 13, testified that he could hear what he believed to be “screaming and laughing” coming from inside.
“We could hear a little bit of screaming and laughing,” he said. “It was coming from upstairs.” He described it as “screaming then laughing, on and on, mostly screaming,” and said the screaming eventually died out.
Lambertus told jurors that in the boy’s account to investigators, he described his mother’s voice as getting “smaller and smaller and smaller.” The evidence shows Ciara Ingram bled to death after the knife severed an artery in her neck, so most likely the boy heard the last sounds his mother made as she died, the prosecutor said.
The daughter, now 12, testified she and her brother wound up waiting outside for “maybe 20 to 30 minutes or so,” after they told their mother goodbye and their father told them to wait in the car.
Twice the girl peered through a mail slot into her mother’s apartment, she said: The first time she saw nothing. The second time, she saw her father changing his shirt, with a white bottle of cleaner nearby, she said. He saw her and waved for her to go away, she said, so she went back to the car.
When her father finally came out to drive them to his home in Harris County, “there was kind of a weird smell” emanating from him, the girl testified.
Reynolds countered that such details were not noted in the children’s first interviews with investigators, and must have been suggested to them later.
“She’d never said one word about bleach before,” the attorney said, adding that in her early interviews, the girl told authorities she smelled nothing coming from her father.
Reynolds also raised doubts about the children’s concept of time: “A minute to a child could be 30 minutes, could be an hour,” he said.
Another point in dispute was whether a struggle ensued during the stabbing. The apartment already was in disarray, because Ingram was planning to move back to Indiana, where she grew up, and she was packing. Boxes were stacked up and some items were left out to be packed.
In the upstairs bedroom, a TV was knocked partially off its stand. Reynolds said the woman fought for her life, yet Jarod Ingram had no bruises or scratches indicating he’d been in a struggle: “It’s just not logical,” Reynolds said.
The TV was not proof of a struggle, Lambertus countered: “She was stabbed from behind. She was ambushed.” She never had a chance to fight back, he said.
The attorneys also debated whether Jarod Ingram had the time and the motivation to kill his ex-wife, under unusual circumstances.
Though they were divorced, he had a key to her apartment, because he sometimes babysat for her at night, as she was a nurse who worked 12-hour shifts.
They had arranged for the children to live with him in Harris County, over the summer when they were out of school, and to live with her during the school year.
He had lost a job at Fort Benning, when the vendor he worked for lost a contract, and was working whatever odd jobs he could get. He was behind on his child support, though by how much was unclear.
Ciara Ingram in court filings claimed he was $12,600 in arrears, having been ordered to pay $550 a month since Oct. 15, 2009. The total over that time would have come to $17,600. Jarod Ingram said the court had not taken into account a time when she lived with him, under the arrangement that she would pay no rent, and he would pay no child support.
Lambertus said Jarod Ingram was under increased pressure to come up with the money, as he faced losing his driver’s license if he didn’t pay up. Without a license, he would not have been able to keep a job, the prosecutor said.
After the children spent the summer with him, they were to rejoin their mother in Indiana, and go to school there in the fall. He did not want her to have custody of the children, Lambertus said.
Reynolds said that was not enough to drive someone to kill: If every spouse resorted to murder after losing a job and falling behind on child support, “we’d literally have bodies all over the street.”
Because of the imminent shift in the family’s living arrangements, the timing of events the day prosecutors believe Ciara Ingram died was crucial.
Reynolds said cell phone records indicated Jarod Ingram was at the apartment from 4:44 to 6:42 p.m. on June 2, 2012, and somewhere near the Interstate 185 Smith Road exit at 7:08 p.m., nearing his Harris County home.
Reynolds argued Ciara Ingram’s last cell phone communication was from 6:35 to 6:39 p.m., and her ex-husband could not have killed her, slashed furniture in the apartment, poured bleach to destroy evidence, and loaded up the kids for the ride home in the time allotted.
Lambertus said Ciara Ingram last used her cell phone when she tried to call a friend in Indiana at 6:19 p.m., but got no answer. The call at 6:35 p.m. was to her, from her brother Jeremy Barrett in Indiana, and whether he spoke with his sister wasn’t clear, as he could not recall the specific conversation, the prosecutor said.
That Jarod Ingram’s phone signal hit a Lakebottom-area cell tower at 6:42 p.m. doesn’t mean he was leaving the apartment then, Lambertus said, so Ingram could have left later: A police officer timed the drive from Lakebottom to Ingram’s home in Harris County at 11 minutes.
The prosecutor in his conclusion called jurors’ attention back to the children’s testimony, calling them the “heart and soul” of the case.
“Everything else corroborates what the children heard and saw,” he told jurors, later adding, “What evidence is there that the children told you anything but the truth?”
The jury now is deliberating the case. Jarod Ingram is charged with malice or deliberate murder, with felony murder for killing someone in the commission of a felony, with aggravated assault and with using a knife to commit a crime.