Originally created 10/26/02

Woman is final defense witness in slaying, arson trial



Three months after Michael W. Bryant Jr. took his wife to dinner and a movie, he still had the receipt and ticket stubs to show a detective.

On Friday, the fifth day of Mr. Bryant's Richmond County Superior Court trial, Lilibeth Bryant testified she was with him in Columbia County the night firefighters discovered the body of 57-year-old Edith Ann Haynes in her Hephzibah home Nov. 15, 2000.

They were at Books-A-Million after seeing Charlie's Angels when Mr. Bryant got a cell phone call from a co-worker, testified Ms. Bryant, who has divorced him. A co-worker called him about Ms. Haynes, she said.

"I was shocked. Michael was shocked. He started to cry," Ms. Bryant testified. On cross-examination, Ms. Bryant testified that the co-worker said only that Ms. Haynes' house was on fire, not that she was dead.

Mr. Bryant, 32, has pleaded innocent to charges of murder, arson and burglary. His ex-wife was the final defense witness. After hearing closing arguments and legal instructions Monday, the jury will begin deliberations.

Mr. Bryant's ex-wife testified that she knew he had a deal with Ms. Haynes to buy a Smith Drive home, but she didn't know all the details.

Mr. Bryant told her he owed Ms. Haynes $2,500, not $25,000, as other witnesses and documents have stated. Ms. Haynes' friends testified this week that, after months of waiting and issuing a final ultimatum, Ms. Haynes expected Mr. Bryant to pay her the $25,000 on Nov. 15, 2000.

Ms. Bryant testified that she and Mr. Bryant both took that day off from work. He left their Evans home early that morning, 7 to 8, she testified. When he returned between 5 and 6 p.m., he talked of having visited a friend in North Augusta and going with his father to look at property in Blythe, Ms. Bryant testified. He never mentioned seeing Ms. Haynes, she said.

Earlier this week, residents of the Windsor Court Mobile Home Park where Ms. Haynes died testified that they saw Mr. Bryant - or a man detectives identified as Mr. Bryant - at Ms. Haynes' home about 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.

A co-worker, Angela Parks, testified Friday that she ran into Mr. Bryant by chance that afternoon, about 3:45 p.m., at a convenience store on Deans Bridge Road. "I was teasing him about why he wasn't at work," and Mr. Bryant told her that he had plans to take his wife to dinner and a movie that night, Ms. Parks testified. Mr. Bryant worked an afternoon shift.

On Friday, the defense team also called a witness to counter the prosecution's contention that Mr. Bryant could have devised a delayed ignition device to start the fire at Ms. Haynes' home after she was beaten and strangled to death.

William H. Holley Sr., Mr. Bryant's former co-worker and fellow member of the fire brigade at Kendall Co., testified that he didn't remember any mention of delayed ignition devices during any training classes that fire brigade members attended.

Asked to identify a coil of fuse wire found at Mr. Bryant's home in February, Mr. Holley said, "It looks like something you would see on a cherry bomb."

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.