Jury selection took most of Monday before a jury composed of nine women and three men with two alternates — one male and one female — was empaneled. Jurors will decide whether or not Good, 28, 389 Blue Ridge Road, is guilty of murder in the death of 31-year-old Maria Fernandez who disappeared Sept. 3, 2008, after finishing her shift at Ellen Sagar Nursing Home.
Opening arguments were presented Monday evening with John Anthony, deputy solicitor for Union County, presenting the jury with an overview of the state’s case. Anthony touched on the relationship between Good and Fernandez whom he said had been involved for several years and had a son together. Good picked up Fernandez at the end of her shift the day she disappeared but Anthony said he never reported her missing. He said it was her mother who reported her missing two days later.
Anthony said that Fernandez remained missing until Jan. 7 when a utility worker found a human skull beneath some powerlines off Highpoint Road in the Carlisle area. He said the skull and other bones recovered from the scene by the Union County Sheriff’s Office were tested and determined to be Fernandez’s.
Fernandez was a nurse and Anthony told the jury that, like nurses, doctors and other medical personnel, they would evaluate the “symptoms” surrounding her death and make a “diagnosis” that she’d been murdered by Good. He said the state would present the symptoms — or circumstances — surrounding Fernandez’s death, including testimony by a neighbor of Good’s and a friend that they’d heard three gunshots coming from his home the evening Fernandez disappeared. The state would also present evidence Good was familiar with the area where Fernandez’s remains were found as he had a friend who lived at the end of Highpoint Road and that grass planted beneath the powerlines where the skeleton was found was in the grill of Good’s car.
Anthony also pointed out cellphone records show Good using a phone on the night of Sept. 3, 2008, and the call was activated off a tower in the Carlisle area. He said Good destroyed Fernandez’s cellphone while on his way to Spartanburg, with pieces of it recovered by the sheriff’s office.
The state, Anthony said, would also present evidence Good had purchased rubbing alcohol to help clean his car, had disposed of a floor mat and that the lining of the trunk in his car had been removed. He said it would also present evidence a burnt pile behind Good’s house contained what was left of an iPod that had belonged to Fernandez.
Defense attorney Doug Brannon, however, pointed out Fernandez and her son had lived with Good. Brannon also pointed out it was Good who not only picked Fernandez up from work but also drove her to Ellen Sagar that morning. He also said contrary to the state’s claim she was never seen again shortly after leaving Ellen Sagar, it is one of the state’s witnesses who said he’d seen her on the porch of Good’s house later that evening.
As for the state’s other evidence, Brannon pointed out Good purchased the rubbing alcohol because he was working with varnish. He said Good was trying to remove white paint from his car.
Brannon said just because a cellphone signal bounces off a tower in Carlise doesn’t mean the call was made from there. He pointed out the cellphone, which had been purchased by Good’s mother and put in his name, actually belonged to Good’s daughter Jasmine.
As for the evidence that Good destroyed Fernandez’s cellphone, Brannon said this amounts to only six pieces of broken plastic and the testimony of a single witness who said he’d heard it being done. As for the burnt iPod, Brannon said it wasn’t until a month ago that authorities even began talking about the device.
Concerning the grass found in Good’s car, Brannon pointed out the grass is planted throughout the state and the amount found was just one sprig of grass. He said the state was trying to tie Good to Fernandez’s death with a single sprig of grass.
Brannon reminded the jury the pathologist who examined Fernandez’s remains could find no sign of traumatic stress and could not determine the cause of her death. He said all this adds up to the state’s failure to meet the burden of proof needed to eliminate reasonable doubt and convict Good of Fernandez’s death.
Following opening statements, Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett called the state’s first witnesses including three former coworkers of Fernandez — Marlo Murray, Janice Goforth and Dorothy Smith. Murray and Goforth worked with Fernandez at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center while Smith worked with her at Ellen Sagar. The three testified as to their relatonships with Fernandez and to what she’d told them about her relationship with Good.
Murray said Fernandez said she didn’t want to marry Good because he didn’t like to work, leaving her to do most of the work; that she would like to get a house for herself and son; and that she wanted to date other people.
Goforth said Fernandez also told her Good would not work and that she wanted to get her own house. She also said Fernandez told her she wanted to leave Good but was afraid.
Smith said Fernandez was working at both Spartanburg Regional and Ellen Sagar to get a house for her and her son; that she’d moved back with her mother; that she’d gotten a loan for a house for her and her son because she wanted something of her own. She said Fernandez had also talked about Good not working and that she was tired of having to foot all the bills.
Under cross-examination by Brannon, Murray said Fernandez had never expressed her feelings to Good. In questioning Goforth on Fernandez being afraid to leave Good, Brannon pointed out she didn’t seem to have a problem leaving her son in his care. Brannon asked Smith if Fernandez had ever said what bills she was having to pay and she no.
The final witnesses of the day were Robert L. Beaty, Good’s neighbor, and Miranda Sims, who was at Beaty’s house having dinner with him the day Fernandez disappeared. They both testified to hearing three gunshots fired in quick succession from around the back of Good’s house that evening. Beaty, who is Fernandez’s great-uncle, said he later saw Good’s car drive around from the back of his house but, while being questioned by Brackett, said he did not see who was driving.
Under questioning from Brannon, both Beaty and Sims said they did not call the police after hearing the shots but went inside his house and had dinner. They also said they did not hear any screams or loud voices or see anyone at the time the shots were fired.
The trial was scheduled to resume today at 9:30 a.m.
Union County Jail Administrator Cpt. Jeff Lawson walks accused murderer Jamel Good into the Union County Courthouse on Monday morning. Good’s trial began later that afternoon after the jury was selected