BENTON - It was an emotional day in court for both the victim and the defendant’s families as opening statements and testimony began in the Tiffany Pittman murder trial. While it was uncertain whether or not a jury would be seated in Marshall County, and with a change of venue temporarily denied, 12 jurors took the oath to serve this afternoon.
In opening statements the commonwealth continues to defend the charge of murder is appropriate for the crime committed based on the defendant’s actions, while the defense contends while the jury may convict Pittman of a crime, there was no intent to commit a murder. The Commonwealth began by calling witness Wanda Vaughn who testified that on the night of the August 15, 2011 collision, she was driving along US Highway 68 in front of Pittman shortly before the collision occurred.
Vaughn stated she observed a white vehicle following closely behind her “crossing the median several times,” and having a passenger (identified through police reports as 20 year-old Holly Hiett) who was described as being “all over the car,” by Vaughn.
The witness stated she was approximately a half-mile from her subdivision turn-off when she activated her blinker, fearing the driver behind her would not slow down enough to allow for her to safely make the turn.
“I didn’t feel like she was paying attention,” Vaughn said adding "there was a lot of commotion in the car."
The witness said she sped up to gain what she considered to be a safe distance and turned on a side-road.
As the white car behind her passed, Vaughn said she observed the passenger facing the driver seat with their “behind in the window.”
Moments after getting back on the roadway, turning into her subdivision and entering her home, Vaughn said she heard sirens.
She said she left her home and traveled toward the incident where she spoke with someone she believed to be a volunteer and asked to speak to an officer.
It was there she confirmed the car involved in the fatal collision was the same one that had been traveling behind her.
“I asked if there was a white car involved and they said ‘yes,’ she told the jury. “Then I asked if they had hit someone and they said ‘yes.”
One of Pittman’s three defense councils, Josh Hitch cross examined Vaughn asking if she had in her possession a cell phone the evening of the event to which she responded, “I am sure I did.”
Hitch questioned Vaughn as to why she had not reported the incident to authorities if she felt the driver of the vehicle described was a danger.
Pittman sobbed as testimony from witnesses continued with the Commonwealth calling vehicle passenger Holly Hiett to the stand.
As soon as Hiett made her way to the front of the courtroom, she pled her Fifth Amendment right.
After discussion between council and Circuit Court Judge Dennis Foust, Hiett was allowed to postpone her testimony until 9 a.m. tomorrow, under the advisement from Foust that she can obtain council, if she chooses, prior to testifying.
Dallas Harper was next to take the witness stand. The last to speak to Harper before the collision, 26 year-old Dallas testified that he was speaking with his father at the very moment the two vehicles collided.
“I had left a message for him to call me back earlier,” he began. Harper’s father was on his way to work, making his daily commute from Reidland to Benton where he was employed at Alcan Composites.
“His birthday and my daughter’s birthday were both coming up that week,” he told the jury. “We were discussing birthday and dinner plans...Everything was normal until the end of the conversation.”
It was at that time Dallas testified that he heard his father say, “Oh my God,” followed by a few seconds of silence and then the words, ‘Oh shit.’ “The phone went blank after that,” he said.
“I tried to call him back 10 or 15 times, but it went straight to voicemail,” Dallas testified.
He said it was nearly two hours before he learned what had happened to his father.
Pittman cried on the shoulder of her attorney as she listened to Dallas testify.
Testimony was also heard from Deputy County Coroner Curt Curtner who stated his job duties on the scene including pronouncing Harper deceased at the scene.
With testimony being ahead of schedule, the court recessed shortly after 4 p.m. with jurors instructed to avoid any and all types of media reports related to this case until the trial concludes.
Testimony begins again at 9 a.m. Thursday morning.