Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ex teacher sentenced to life without parole for murder of love rival

A former teacher was sentenced to life without parole yesterday in a capital murder case stemming from a love triangle between two former teachers. Carla Hughes, a 28 year old mother of a 5 year old son, was sentenced to life without parole for the capital murder of her "love" rival, Avis Banks and her unborn child. The 27 year old Banks was murdered by the then 25 year old Hughes. Banks, who was five months pregnant, was shot four times, stabbed trhree times, and slashed in front of her driveway on November 29, 2006.

The reason for Banks' murder was jealously and a wish for Hughes, a language arts teacher and cheerleading coach at Chastain Middle School in Jackson, MS to steal Banks' man Keyon Pittman, a fellow teacher at the same school. Now 34, married, and living in Detroit, Pittman testified during the trial that though he had a sexual relationship with Hughes, he was still planning to marry Banks - and their wedding day was supposed to be in January 2007.

According to Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest, Hughes "wanted the life Avis Banks had and she believed the only way to get it was to kill Avis and her unborn child."

Banks, 27, was looking forward to having her first child and getting married. The college graduate was working toward her dream of opening her own day-care center.

Meanwhile, Hughes was already a mother and working in the family business - education. She had a master's degree from Belhaven College and completed the coursework for an education speciality degree from Delta State University.

After eight hours of deliberations over two days, thr jury of 9 women and 3 men convicted Hughes of capital murder Tuesday, October 13.
On the other side of the nearly full courtroom, Banks' parents, Frederick and Debra Banks, and about a dozen other family members reacted with quiet sobs and embraces.

"Avis can finally rest in peace," Frederick Banks said after the verdict.

The family has waited for almost three years to see justice, Frederick Banks said. He said pent-up emotions made him feel like someone who has been in jail for three years. He said the guilty verdict allows him to let it out.

Hughes' parents, Carl and Linda Hughes of Noxapater, wouldn't comment after the verdict, but Carla Hughes' aunt, Ruthie Morris, said her niece is innocent.

Her defense attorney, Johnnie Walls, stated that Pittman killed his fiance because he didn't want to be a father, but wanted to stay a womanizer. While Guest did not like Pittman's lifestyle, "he came in here and told the truth. He is no killer."
After the guilty verdict, testimony gravitated to the penalty phase of the trial. Guest said as he tried to persuade the jury to sentence Hughes to death, "This crime was premeditated murder. This was not an accidental death or a heat of passion death. It was premeditated. She hid and waited to shoot Avis Banks when she arrived home."
During the penalty phase of the trial, the prosecution [also] recalled forensic pathologist Steven Hayne to the witness stand to testify about Banks being shot four times, stabbed three times and slashed.

Hayne said Banks probably would have been conscious for 15 or 20 minutes after three of the shots before going into shock and dying. His testimony was to show the manner of Banks' death was heinous and atrocious, an element for sentencing a person to death.

The defense called seven witnesses, including her former pastor and others from her hometown of Greenfield, MS.

Carl Hughes was the final defense witness called in the penalty phase of the trial that has gained national attention through live coverage on national television.

Carl Hughes, a ninth-grade football coach in Greenville, began to cry when he described his daughter and how hard it has been to see her charged and convicted of capital murder.

"That's not Carla the way I perceive her," Carl Hughes said. "I beg you to please spare my daughter."

Carla Hughes' mother also asked the jury to have mercy on her daughter. "She has so much to give," Lynda Hughes said of Carla. She and her husband adopted Carla when she was 6 weeks old.

Armed with an array of awards Carla Hughes had won, Lynda Hughes noted that her daughter has been helping inmates at the Madison County Detention Center to read while she has been incarcerated there and started a Bible-reading session. All the defense witnesses said they have never known Hughes to be violent and she was always a peacemaker.

Hughes' parents and her attorney, Johnnie Walls Jr. of Greenville, made emotional pleas Wednesday to let Hughes live. Walls said Hughes wasn't just a client but a friend he has known all of her life.

At one point, Walls choked with emotion as he spoke to the jury. "I can't believe a woman like that should be put to death," Walls said, fighting back tears. "I ask you to spare her life."

After 52 minutes of deliberation, the jury did just that yesterday. Now Hughes can spend all the time in the world teaching fellow inmates how to read - while Fredreick banks is left to ponder what could have been with his daughter and grandchild.

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