(Late breaking: Wednesday, a Palo Pinto jury returned a verdict of guilty to the lesser included charge of manslaughter.)
Testimony began Tuesday in the trial of Nathan Luke Nichols, 23, accused of murder in the death of Carolyn K. Veach and James S. King III on Jan. 3, 2013, when his vehicle collided head on with the PT Cruiser driven by Veach on FM 2201 east of Santo.
District Attorney Michael Burns used his opening remarks to tell the six-man, six-woman, jury what he believed the evidence would show.
“Jan. 3 started out as any other day,” he said. “They had to go to Mineral Wells, a routine day.”
He explained that they went to Walmart, she had a doctor's appointment, filled a prescription and paid bills.
“At 5:03 p.m., they left Diamond Pharmacy to drive back to Santo,” Burns continued.
He said the evidence would show they probably drove south on Highway 281 and turned west on FM 2201.
“Around 5:25 to 5:30, their lives ended.”
Burns changed the location as he began to explain what happened with Nichols that morning. He said the defendant had an on-again off-again relationship with his girlfriend.
“The defendant spent four years in the Marine Corps and came back wanting to renew their relationship,” he said.
The DA added that his girlfriend wanted to end the relationship. She invited Nichols to lunch at McDonald's in Stephenville where she told him.
“The defendant didn't take it well, he was angry and distraught” Burns said. “He became more and more emotional.”
She offered to take him to his home in Stephenville, however, Burns said the defendant was so distraught she left him at a parking lot.
He explained that Nichols called a friend who took him to his (the friend's) apartment.
There, Burns said the friend saw that Nichols was upset and slipped in and out of sleep. The friend put him to bed where he remained until about 3 p.m. The DA said when Nichols awoke, he told his friend he was going to Santo to see his girlfriend. The friend tried to dissuade him but was unsuccessful
Burns said Nichols' friend called the girlfriend and told her she should leave the house, which she did. Her parents were in Wisconsin.
“Around 5 p.m. the girlfriend's sister came home from school,” the DA added. “She saw the defendant's car at the house, there was nobody home.”
Burns said the defendant did not have consent to enter the home, but had anyway. He added that there was money and pills missing from the home.
“The defendant left the house, driving east on 2201 toward Highway 281, shortly after 5:15, maybe 5:20,” Burns said.
He then explained that anther driver was traveling west on FM 2201. In the pickup she was driving was her children.
“She saw a black Mustang coming straight at her in her lane,” he said. “She began flashing her lights, laying on the horn. The Mustang kept coming.”
She slowed her speed to about 20 mph and the Mustang kept coming at her.
“She went into the bar ditch,” he continued. “She looked behind and saw the Mustang had moved to the right.”
The DA said the woman saw another car behind her.
“It (the Mustang) immediately moved to the left,” he added.
In that vehicle were Veach and King.
“Carolyn didn't move into the bar ditch,” Burns said.
“There were 100 some-odd feet of black marks (from Veach's car), not a brake light one from the defendant's vehicle,” he pointed out. “The defendant hit them head on and killed them instantly.”
Burns said Nichols was alert and combative with EMS responders. A helicopter was called to transport Nichols to a Fort Worth hospital.
“At one point, he attempted to open the (helicopter) door to get out,” Burns added.
He continued by adding that Texas Department of Public Safety Chris Swancey, who investigated the accident, determined that Nichols had a clear field of view in the area of the accident.
“The lane of travel of the defendant had a solid yellow stripe, meaning no passing,” Burns said. “There were no skid marks indicating braking on the part of the defendant.
“This was either a deliberate act or at least a known act.”
Defense attorney Tim Ford did not offer any opening remarks to the jury.
The first witnesses called by the prosecutor included Veach's oldest daughter, the doctor's receptionist and the pharmacist who filled Veach's prescription that day. Each recounted what Veach had done and her state of mind. Each said she appeared normal.
In cross examination, Ford focused on the prescriptions she had as well as her physical well being.
District Judge Michael Moore will determine punishment. He has ordered a pre-sentencing investigation of Nichols, who faces a possible sentence of two to 20 years, a possible fine of up to $10,000 or there is the possibility of probation.