Investigators considered Sajid F. Leslie just another interview subject three days after firefighters found his ex-girlfriend's body in a burning car.
They wanted to talk with anyone who knew 30-year-old Lori Joe Hastings, testified Sgt. John Gray of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department. But after hearing his account of where he was when Ms. Hastings died on April 22, comparing his statement to other witnesses' and seeing burns on Mr. Leslie's face, investigators began looking at Mr. Leslie as a suspect, Sgt. Gray testified.
Before Mr. Leslie's Richmond County Superior Court trial begins, Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. will hear evidence today to determine if a jury selected Monday should hear what Mr. Leslie told investigators in three statements.
Mr. Leslie, 29, of Hephzibah, has pleaded not guilty to felony murder, malice murder and arson in the first degree. He has been jailed without bond since being charged April 27.
Ms. Hastings, who lived in North Augusta with her two children, was found in the driver's seat of her burning Dodge Shadow, which was parked behind a building at 2813 Regency Blvd. just after 11 p.m. April 22.
Initial autopsy reports indicated Ms. Hastings was still breathing when her vehicle began burning. Sgt. Gray testified at a hearing last spring that gasoline fumes were detected after firefighters drenched the blaze with water.
Mr. Leslie told investigators he worked a day shift April 22, then spent hours with his son and the child's mother before going out of town to watch dog fights until late into the evening, Sgt. Gray previously testified. Mr. Leslie said he burned his face while working on his car, the officer testified in May.
Investigators say they uncovered evidence to contradict Mr. Leslie's alibi, and discovered an April 22 telephone call from Mr. Leslie's home to Ms. Hastings' home and a call from her home to a pay phone near Mr. Leslie's job site the same day.
Ms. Hastings was last seen at her home just before 10 p.m. April 22, when she told her children she was going out for a few minutes.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.