First-degree murder trial continues as Tribune goes to press

Friday, May 2, 2014

By Karen Hall and

Jessica Moore

Staff Writers

Starting after lunch Tuesday, the prosecution began building the case against Heather Rogers McCollum, 24, who is charged with the first-degree premeditated murder of John Poteete on Aug. 14, 2012, and with arson, allegedly to cover up the crime.

District Attorney Rob Carter and Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard took turns questioning the witnesses.

Jurors listened intently as one witness described making the 911 call, and another told of lending McCollum his cordless phone the evening of Aug. 13. This man said he heard about Poteete's death from his sister in the morning of Aug. 14, and saw McCollum again later, but said she seemed "normal."

Then it was the turn of emergency services personnel.

Lewisburg Police Officers Clint Newbill and Mike Davis described getting the call and finding Poteete's home on Franklin Avenue, with black smoke coming out around the eaves and the cracks of the door. They did not enter the house because opening the door could send a rush of oxygen to the fire, causing a dangerous "flash over." The Lewisburg Fire Department arrived a few minutes later.

"Did you know that was a crime scene?" Carter asked Davis.

"No, not at all," the policeman replied.

It was 20 or 25 minutes later, Davis said, when fire fighters Jason Davis and Michael Parks found a "burnt up body" inside.

Mike Davis started keeping a "crime scene log," noting everyone who went in and out of the house, and why, and Officer Clyde Ragsdale took over from him when the shift changed at 6 a.m.

Davis and Newbill also described an encounter with McCollum during the evening of Aug. 13. They were dispatched to a domestic on Woodlawn Street, and found McCollum's husband, Jason, and Gary O'Neal in the yard. By the time officers got there, the men had stopped arguing, and said everything was fine. At this point, Heather McCollum appeared at the front door.

"She was extremely angry," Davis said. "She was shouting and cursing," calling the cops "racist," as well as using unprintable obscenities.

"Did she come toward you?" Carter asked.

"No, she stayed in the area of the door and shouted from there," Davis replied, describing Heather McCollum's mental state as "agitated and distraught."

This incident was before the one described by the earlier witness, when she came walking by his house on Greenwood Avenue and asked to use the phone.

Testimony Wednesday started with Jason Whitsett of the Emergency Medical Service. The jury were shown pictures he took inside Poteete's home, including photos of his body lying on the bed.

The next witness was arson investigator Russell Robinson, who spent the whole afternoon identifying photographs and explaining their significance to the jury, as well as describing his painstaking investigation of the scene.

Robinson's testimony was continuing as the Tribune went to press. He was the first person to interview Heather McCollum and take statements from her, and these where expected to be heard Thursday afternoon.

For updates on the trial, and the verdict, visit www.marshalltribune.com.