"I expected she was dead, but you hope"

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Jo Beth Marchand had called the Presbyterian Night Shelter home for seven years.

So when church friends helped her move into an apartment through a Fort Worth Housing Authority program, she was thrilled and worked hard to follow the rules and keep it tidy.

"She was really concerned about doing everything right because she didn't want to lose her apartment," said Lynda Tarwater. "She didn't want to go back to the shelter."

So Tarwater and Terri Byrd were naturally alarmed when, after being unable to reach Marchand, they entered her locked second-floor apartment and found the mattress just inside the front door and chairs and tables rearranged.

When the two ladies checked Marchand's closet to see if her clothes were missing, Tarwater spotted a comforter on the floor. She pulled it up to see her friend's body wrapped inside, naked from the waist down.

"I was so shocked that I just dropped the blanket and I said, 'There she is Terri' and I just walked out the door and called 911, hoping she was still alive," Tarwater said. "I expected she was dead, but you hope."

The emotional accounts of discovering Marchand's body that Dec. 2, 2011, morning marked the first day of testimony in the capital murder trial of James Wesley Brooks Jackson, accused of strangling Marchand in the course of sexually assaulting the woman and burglarizing her home.

Because prosecutors have waived the death penalty, Jackson will face an automatic life sentence without parole if found guilty. The case is being tried in State District Judge Scott Wisch's court.

Friends described Marchand as a slightly mentally challenged woman who was capable of living by herself but received help in managing money.

In opening statements, prosecutor Sheila Wynn said that Marchand had been left homeless after her mother, with whom she lived, died.

Tarwater, a criminal defense lawyer, testified that she was doing Christian ministry at the shelter when she met Marchand.

"She had never married. She had no children. She had no siblings. Her father had left her when she was born so she never really knew her father and her mother was dead so she had nobody," Tarwater testified. "She kind of attached herself to me and I loved her."

Through Tarwater, Marchand met Byrd, who came to serve as Marchand's volunteer case manager. The two women helped Marchand move out of the shelter and into an apartment at the Oak Timbers complex, a senior living facility south of downtown.

Though gregarious, Marchand was also guarded, friends testified. She had only a few close friends, kept her apartment door always locked, and only left her apartment to attend church or take the bus to the grocery story or the library to check out Nancy Drew mysteries.

Sally Sloan, who volunteered as Marchand's guardian in financial matters, testified that she had last talked to Marchand shortly before 6 p.m. Dec. 1, 2011, when she told Marchand she would be stopping by after working late to give Marchand her monthly bus pass and cash stipend.

Two hours later, when Sloan called repeatedly to say she was on her way, Marchand didn't pick up the phone. Nor was she waiting outside or answering the phone when Sloan arrived at the gated complex.

"That fact that it had been approximately two hours, my thought was maybe she thought I wasn't coming at all and just went to bed," Sloan said.

But the next morning, Sloan still couldn't reach Marchand by phone.

"At that point I was worried," said Sloan, who then alerted Byrd and the complex's assistant manager. "I was afraid, gosh, maybe she fell in the bathroom and had been laying there all night. I started having a bad feeling then."

The assistant manager testified that she let herself into the locked apartment to look for Marchand but found only the apartment in disarray. At Marchands' friends' request, she later went in a second time to see if Marchand's money was still in the apartment.

She found the woman's cash still hidden under the ice tray in the freezer but coins kept near Marchand's bedside gone.

Not long after, Byrd and Tarwater arrived to look around, discovering Marchand's body hidden in the closet.

As Tarwater called 911 from the patio, Byrd testified she knelt down by her friend's body and stayed there until paramedics arrived.

"I began to pray for her and Linda asked me to check her pulse," Byrd testified. "... Part of her neck area felt warm but the rest of her body was cold."

In opening statements, Wynn, who is prosecuting the case with Bryan Hoeller, said jurors will hear evidence that Jackson was linked to the crime scene through fingerprints found on a vase and DNA obtained from blood on a couch cushion.

Wynn said Jackson initially denied knowing Marchand but later told homicide investigators that the woman had come onto him after she came home to find him burglarizing her apartment.

"He said she came on to me. This woman who has never had a boyfriend in her life, comes home to a burglar in her house and has sex with him vaginally, anally, and orally. That's what the defendant tells police," Wynn said.

Wynn said Jackson also told detectives that Marchand had a phone cord charger around her neck when she approached him. He said he was pulling the cords around her neck when she tripped and fell, ultimately making a horrible noise as he drug her across the bedroom floor.

"He didn't think she was dead and he didn't mean to kill her," Wynn said Jackson told investigators.

She said evidence in the case, however, will show "his actions speak much louder than words."

Later in the afternoon, homicide Detective Jeremy Rhoden testifed that Jackson’s name first surfaced as a suspect in the case in March 2012 after the department received lab test results back.

Defense attorney Warren St. John did not give an opening statement. During cross-examining of witnesses, however, he focused on the fact that there was no forced entry evident at the apartment.

He also suggested that the crime scene may have been contaminated by the two friends who discovered Marchand’s body – one of which touched the dead woman’s body and the other who moved the blanket concealing Marchand.

Jackson has a long criminal history, including a 2008 conviction for raping an acquaintance in South Carolina.

He was scheduled to go on trial on Nov. 14, 2011 on charges of robbery and attempted aggravated sexual assault but, on that day, was instead released from Tarrant County Jail after a prosecutor’s motion to dismiss the charges was granted.

District Attorney officials have said the charges were dismissed because the victim in the case, who had a history of mental illness, was in the hospital and was not competent to testify.

Eighteen days after his release, Marchand was found dead.

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