Jurors in Terry Speaks’ murder trial Thursday heard phone calls between Jaren Lockhart’s accused killers in which the couple argued about fidelity and, according to prosecutors, used code in referencing the night they fatally stabbed the Bourbon Street dancer as the time their dog had parvo.
They also reviewed emails sent while Speaks was in jail and his alleged accomplice, Margaret Sanchez, was not. In one of them, Speaks threatened to expose her out of anger that she was straying from him, telling her he had hung onto incriminating items of clothing when he did their “spring cleaning.”
Speaks and Sanchez are accused of bringing Lockhart to their Kenner home in the early morning hours of June 6, 2012, under the guise of having her perform at a paid “private party” but then stabbing her once in the heart, dismembering her body and driving into Mississippi to throw the body parts into waterways.
Both are charged with second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence, along with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Sanchez will be tried later.
On Thursday, jurors heard the couple grow increasingly agitated in phone conversations beginning in September 2013 as Speaks stressed their relationship while Sanchez expressed frustration not only about their current situation, but also the fact that Speaks hadn’t told her his real name for much of their relationship.
It was in a conversation where Speaks expressed fear of losing Sanchez that parvo came up.
“We went through some hard (expletive) times with parvo and whatnot,” he said, adding later, “I think the only reason you’re hanging around with me is because of some of the things that we experienced.”
Later, Sanchez said, “The hardest thing was going through parvo, dealing with that parvo. It was insane, and it was tough, you know,” she said.
“The parvo, right? I’m thinking on the same level as you are. The parvo with the dog, right?” Speaks replied.
“That was a very intense experience,” Sanchez said.
“And you don’t walk away from that,” Speaks replied.
Speaks later went on to say the parvo experience is “something we will always have.”
David Stromeyer, a former detective with the Kenner Police Department who worked on the case, testified that investigators came to believe that while the couple’s dog, Logan, did once have parvo, the term was in fact code for the night of the killing.
In full emails from 2013, only excerpts of which were filed in court just before the trial, Speaks warned Sanchez he wanted to “tell everything” and that “acting crazy and blaming drugs won’t free you.”
Sanchez had just moved to Las Vegas and met someone, angering Speaks.
“I’m the only reason you’re still out there (free). Where’s the gratitude for me?” he asked.
Speaks said he had saved a pair of panties with bodily fluids from both Lockhart and Sanchez on them.
“See, Margo Stars, I’m just as crazy as you,” he wrote, referring to Sanchez by one of her aliases.
The jury also saw photographs of Speaks and Sanchez taken on a Mississippi beach where portions of Lockhart’s body were later found. The photographs had been taken by Speaks a month before Lockhart was killed and were deleted less than two days after the killing.
Earlier in the day, the jury heard testimony from two prisoners who had shared cells with Speaks and who testified he told them he had killed a girl.
Speaks told them multiple versions of the story, a point seized on by defense attorneys John Benz and Brad Scott, along with the fact that both men were getting letters from the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office recommending reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony.
Prosecutors worked to overcome the absence of any forensic evidence tying Speaks to Lockhart and Lockhart’s body to Speaks’ and Sanchez’s house and car.
A DNA analyst and a crime scene investigator called by the prosecution testified that it is possible — through degradation or the limits of testing, as well as the efforts of a motivated killer — for no DNA or forensic evidence to remain behind after a crime.
They also acknowledged that it could mean the alleged crime did not happen the way prosecutors say it did.
Glenn Fahrig, a DNA analyst with the State Police crime lab in Baton Rouge, testified that tests were not able to find any of Terry Speaks’ seminal fluid in Jaren Lockhart.
Assistant Attorney Doug Freese asked if that could be because her body was in water for almost a day, and Fahrig replied that it was possible.
Investigators also could not find Lockhart’s DNA in the house where prosecutors say she was stabbed or the car that Speaks and his accomplice were driving that night. Nor did her DNA turn up in a pile of burned items found outside the house.
Fahrig said natural factors such as moisture, heat and sunlight could have kept investigators from being able to pick up any good DNA samples.
As a demonstration, Freese held up a pen, asking Fahrig if his DNA would necessarily be on it after he’d been holding it for a while, and Fahrig said not necessarily.
“It’s sort of a crapshoot,” he said. “I might not get anything at all. It can be very variable.”
Freese asked about television shows like “CSI.”
“Our laboratory does not have that kind of success rate,” Fahrig said, adding that wiping objects clean or using cleaning products could remove physical evidence.
On cross-examination, however, Benz suggested that a concerted effort to clean up is not the only possible explanation. It could be, he said, “that there is no DNA there in the first place.”
“That’s possible,” Fahrig replied.
Patrick Lane, a crime scene investigator with the State Police, said it is easy to go on the Internet and read about how to dispose of physical evidence.
Lane testified that unlike cutting up the body, which could have been done to make it easier to move, the cutting off of Lockhart’s tattoos indicated a concerted effort to get away with a crime. “It’s to make what’s left of that body not readily identifiable,” he said.
On cross-examination, Lane reiterated that the lack of evidence could also show that nothing happened there at all.
“In my mind, nothing established with any degree of certainty that this was or was not the crime scene,” he said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.