Originally created 04/12/06

Burke jury to decide murder or suicide



WAYNESBORO, Ga. - Amy Walden either found her husband dead or shot him dead two days before police found him, attorneys told jurors Tuesday.

Mrs. Walden's Burke County Superior Court trial began Tuesday. She has pleaded not guilty to charges, including murder, in the August 2004 death of 31-year-old John Walden.

"There was talk of a divorce," Assistant District Attorney Hank Syms told the jury in his opening statement.

But Mrs. Walden, who was pregnant with her third child, wasn't going to go through a second divorce, Mr. Syms said. Mrs. Walden told her sister-in-law once that she would kill her husband before she would go through another.

Mrs. Walden claimed her husband shot himself, but his family and friends are expected to testify that he was upset - but not despondent - about being $40,000 in debt, Mr. Syms said. He was proactive, working overtime and contemplating a second job, Mr. Syms said.

But the defense intends to show that Mr. Walden was depressed and talked of suicide, said defense attorney Peter Flanagan. On Aug. 22, 2004, Mrs. Walden came home from shopping and found her husband dead on the couch.

"She froze. She panicked," Mr. Flanagan said. Instead of calling police, she covered his body and rearranged the furniture so the children, ages 3 and 7, wouldn't see his body.

The forensic evidence is expected to reveal that Mr. Walden was shot in the head with a .380-caliber handgun held within inches of his right temple. Both attorneys also mentioned in opening statements that Mr. Walden had gunshot residue on his hands.

Sheriff's investigators discovered Mr. Walden's corpse under a pile of blankets in the living room of his home. Mr. Walden's family members asked for the sheriff department's help when they hadn't heard from or seen Mr. Walden in two days and learned that he had not shown up for work, Mr. Syms said.

Sheriff Greg Coursey testified that the smell of the decomposing body was overwhelming.

"To be honest, I was about to throw up," he testified.

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

Testimony continues at 9 this morning in the Burke County Courthouse.