First-degree murder trial started Monday
By Karen Hall
Fourteen people (12 jurors and two alternates) took their seats in the jury box at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, ready to hear evidence in the case of Heather Rogers McCollum, 24, who is charged with first-degree premeditated murder and arson.
The charges arose from the death of John Poteete, 68, in the early hours of Aug. 14, 2012. Emergency services arrived at his home, 602 Franklin Avenue, in response to a fire call, and found his body in the burning house. Later examination revealed he had been stabbed 12 times.
"You've got a rough job ahead of you," Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard told prospective jurors Monday morning. "This is an important case."
Giving some of the background, he said McCollum and Poteete had known each other for about seven years.
"Poteete assisted her with money and things," Barnard said. In the summer of 2012, McCollum had three children: a 4-year-old boy, a 3-year-old girl, and a two and a half month old baby.
The ADA called June 18, 2012, a "watershed date," because it was on that day McCollum called the Lewisburg Police Department and accused Poteete of touching her daughter.
"It's easy to accuse," Barnard said. "Poteete denied it to his dying day."
The police department, the Department of Children's Services, and Junior's House all started investigations into McCollum's allegations, but she became "impatient," with the slowness of their progress.
Barnard told the jury they would hear from someone who heard McCollum say, "I'll take care of it in my own way," on June 28.
Fire investigators found multiple points of origin -- in other words, places the fire started -- in Poteete's home, and Barnard said this was an indication of arson.
"To cover up the murder," was the reason for setting the fire, Barnard alleged, noting there was "another party involved," who helped the defendant.
McCollum's appointed attorney is Samuel L. Patterson of Columbia. During opening arguments he reportedly said McCollum did not deny killing Poteete, but it was not first-degree premeditated murder. It was "voluntary manslaughter," legally defined as killing in the heat of passion, in circumstances that would cause a normal person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed.
The circumstances, in this case, were that Poteete had been abusing McCollum for years, but when she found out he had started touching her daughter, she "just snapped."
Whether the jury believes this, or whether they come to the conclusion that McCollum thought about and planned the murder for almost two months, will make a huge difference in the sentence McCollum receives if she is found guilty.