Prosecutor: McCords lured Bates couple into death trap
News staff writer
Alan and Terra Bates unknowingly walked into a death trap planned and executed by Bates's ex-wife and her police officer husband, a Jefferson County prosecutor said Tuesday.
Jessica and Jeff McCord lured the couple into their house with a handwritten note taped to the front door and then shot them four times each after they were asked to come inside, an invitation that never before had been extended during a turbulent child custody battle between Alan Bates and Jessica McCord, said Jefferson County Chief Deputy District Attorney Roger Brown.
"Alan and Terra took those fateful steps to eternity, into the trap laid by this defendant," he said. "Step by step by step, they walked closer to the last few minutes of their very short lives."
Jessica McCord went on trial this week on two charges of capital murder in the deaths of Bates, her ex-husband, and his new wife, Terra. The Bateses were found Feb. 16, 2002, in Georgia in the trunk of their burning rental car, both bodies riddled with bullets. Prosecutors said the slayings resulted from a nasty battle over visitation rights with the two daughters shared by Alan Bates and Jessica McCord.
Jeff McCord, fired from the Pelham Police Department after his arrest, will be tried later.
A jury of three men and 11 women on Tuesday heard opening statements from lawyers and testimony from four of at least three dozen expected witnesses.
Brown told jurors how Alan Bates and Jessica McCord met in high school and married when she became pregnant. They divorced after having two daughters, Gabrielle, now 12, and Madeline, 10. At first the separation was civil, but it deteriorated when Bates began to court his future wife.
"She began to make it impossible for him to see the girls," Brown said of Jessica McCord. "She lied about where they were. She refused to answer the phone. She even took down her mailbox."
Brown said Jessica McCord refused to comply with 15 months of court orders allowing Bates to see his children and eventually was jailed in Shelby County for 10 days in December 2001. Brown said Jessica McCord then made the statement, "Somebody is going to pay for this."
While in jail, Brown said, Jessica McCord read a murder mystery and then hatched her own murder plot. She even told a fellow inmate who is expected to testify later this week, "What if I kill them, put them in a trunk of a car and ran it in the river? Do you think I'd get away with it?" Brown said.
When the Bateses came to the McCords' Hoover home on Feb. 15 to pick up the girls for a weekend visit and trip to Atlanta, they found a handwritten note on the front door that read, "Come to the back. We're having trouble with the front door." The Bateses went inside a door that led to the den around the back of the house, sat on a leather couch and were then shot.
The McCords put the bodies in the trunk of the car, drove to a remote area outside of Atlanta and set the car on fire to destroy any evidence , Brown said. The McCords came back to Birmingham to clean up the mess, including stripping the couch of its blood-stained leather upholstery and replacing floor tile, he said.
"But they made some mistakes," Brown said. They overlooked blood found on a glass coffee table that later tested to be Terra Bates's blood. A bullet found in the house matches the only bullet recovered from one of the bodies.
Brown said they have no murder weapon.
"It is circumstantial evidence, but it's circumstantial evidence so compelling that when you hear it, you will reach the inevitable, inescapable conclusion that this woman and her husband cold-bloodedly murdered these two people to keep her kids," the prosecutor said. "Not because she loved them, but because they were a weapon to make this man miserable."
Court-appointed defense attorney John Wiley told the jury they would see a great lack of evidence of guilt in the prosecution's case. "He's not going to be able to prove motive, he's not going to show you a murder weapon and he's not going to be able to tell you who killed Alan and Terra Bates," he said. "She cannot be found guilty unless the state proves to you beyond a reasonable doubt that she is guilty. Keep that in mind."
The fathers of both victims were among first witnesses to testify. Philip Bates, father of Alan Bates, and Tom Klugh, father of Terra Bates, testified about the last times they saw their children alive. Frank Head, Alan Bates's attorney in the custody fight, stayed on the witness stand for much of the afternoon, recounting the many legal maneuverings in the lengthy court battle.
Also testifying Tuesday was Pamela Sayle, Gabrielle and Madeline's dance instructor for four years. Sayle said that Jessica McCord made several negative comments about Alan Bates.
"She had made the comments from time to time, if he ever tried to get the girls that he would regret it," she said.