HAZARD — The trial of a Perry County woman charged with shooting and injuring her brother and killing another woman got underway Monday in Perry Circuit Court, with the prosecution calling their first four witnesses before a recess was called for the evening.
Facing charges of murder and attempted murder, 42-year-old Sarah Melton, of Brownsfork, sat calmly behind the defense table and listened as Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Reed addressed the jury in opening statements, painting Melton as a murderer who callously used a shotgun to shoot her brother, William Couch, and his girlfriend, Cindy Caudill, on the late afternoon of June 28, 2011.
Though Couch survived the incident, Caudill died from wounds she suffered during the shooting. According to Reed’s opening remarks, the autopsy indicated that Caudill died as her spine was severed.
The initial argument was apparently over a land dispute, and it was reported that Melton and Couch did not get along with each other, Reed said, but Cindy Caudill was effectively a bystander, and her death at Melton’s hands was nothing less than murder.
“She killed an innocent person,” Reed said.
Defense attorney Gerald Teaster used his opening statement not to deny that Melton had shot Caudill and Couch. There was no question that she had, he noted, but an important part of this case was Melton’s state of mind on the day of the shooting. Teaster described Melton as the victim of a serious assault at the hands of her brother earlier that day, and Couch as a man whose violent past reaches back 25 years and includes a number of instances of violence toward other people.
“One of the things she knew and was in her mind when she pulled that trigger was a 25-year history of violence from this man,” Teaster said. “And she knew him to be an extremely violent man.”
Teaster also claimed that Melton had coped for several years with mental issues stemming from her abuse as a young girl, which made her overly protective of her own children. Teaster claimed that Couch made a threat that included Melton’s children, and that’s when she simply snapped.
Following their opening statements, Reed called several witnesses to the stand, including Brownsfork resident Melissa Higgins, who testified that she heard Melton make threats against Couch and Caudill prior to the incident, and seemed to be “quite angry” with her brother earlier that day. She said Melton and Couch, at a residence in Brownsfork, became involved in a verbal argument before Couch and Caudill left the property on a four wheeler.
Reed’s final witness on Monday was Jesse Couch, who testified that he saw the argument between Melton and her brother, but didn’t witness any physical altercation prior to the shooting. He said Caudill appeared scared and was desperate to leave the property. But when Couch and Caudill did eventually leave on an ATV, Melton followed behind in a Geo Tracker.
Jesse Couch said the couple was traveling slowly along the roadway on the ATV, no more than a few miles per hour. That’s when he testified that Melton stopped the Tracker, stepped out of the vehicle and fired one shot from a shotgun, striking both William Couch and Cindy Caudill.
After the shot, he testified, Melton walked to her brother, lifted his head and said, “How does it feel?”
Following early testimony, Circuit Judge Bill Engle recessed the trial at 5p.m. on Monday. Attorneys were set to begin calling more witnesses Tuesday morning.
Teaster has yet to call a witness to the stand, but during his opening remarks he did note that an expert would be called to testify in regard to Melton’s mental state. He told the jury that Melton would be taking the stand as well.