Originally created 05/04/04

Grisly detail opens death penalty trial



When investigators found the body of Robert O. Arrington's wife, they discovered that someone had pulled her shirt up over her breasts, just as someone did to Kathy Hutchens years later, District Attorney Danny Craig said Monday.

It was, Mr. Craig told the Richmond County Superior Court jury in his opening statement, Mr. Arrington's criminal signature.

Mr. Arrington has pleaded innocent to murder charges in Ms. Hutchens' April 2001 slaying. His trial began Monday. Defense attorneys William Sussman and Jeffrey Bowman will try to convince the jury that any number of people could have killed Ms. Hutchens and that no one can even say for certain when she died, Mr. Bowman said in his opening statement.

If Mr. Arrington is convicted of murder, the jury will be asked to determine punishment - life in prison with or without the possibility of parole, or death.

Evidence of the August 1986 strangulation death of Mr. Arrington's wife, Elizabeth, will be introduced to show Mr. Arrington's bent of mind, Mr. Craig said. Mr. Arrington pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in that case.

"I ain't scared of no woman. I already strangled one to death and only did five years," Mr. Craig quoted Mr. Arrington as telling a sheriff's deputy April 3, 2001.

On that morning, Ms. Hutchens, 46, called police for help in getting Mr. Arrington out of her home. Investigators believe she was beaten to death in her George Road home the next day.

Geoffrey Smith, of the state's medical examiner's office, testified Monday that Ms. Hutchens suffered 12 to 14 blows to her head. Several of them caved in her skull in front and in back, Dr. Smith testified.

The wounds are consistent with two possible weapons - one round like the head of a hammer, the other square like the legs of a footstool in Ms. Hutchens' home.

Investigators learned that Ms. Hutchens kept a hammer under her kitchen sink, Richmond County sheriff's Investigator James Gordon testified. But he could not find it during a search. He did, however, find a smear of blood on the kitchen counter next to the sink.

The crime scene investigators also found a short, iron footstool, its legs splattered with blood, hair and tissue, he testified.

Investigator Gordon said he also found a shoe print in blood and a bloody fingerprint in the home.

Ms. Hutchens' body wasn't discovered until April 13, 2001. The advanced stage of decomposition, combined with the last time family and friends had spoken to her, led investigators to conclude that she was killed April 3 or 4, Mr. Craig told the jury.

Investigators found a receipt showing Ms. Hutchens had cashed a check April 3 and received $690. The money wasn't found in her home.

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

Testimony continues today in Robert O. Arrington's death penalty trial in Richmond County Superior Court.