Mother testifies about finding Ginger Hayden's body

Her last words to her mother were, "I love you."

During emotional testimony that left some jurors in tears, the mother of a slain 18-year-old woman testified from her wheelchair Thursday about finding her daughter's brutally stabbed body in the apartment they shared in west Fort Worth.

Sharon Hayden Harvey, who has multiple sclerosis but was not using a wheelchair at the time her daughter was killed, told jurors in state District Judge Everett Young's court that she found the body when she went to investigate why her daughter had not turned off her alarm.

That morning, Sept. 5, 1984, would have been Ginger Hayden's second day of classes at the University of Texas at Arlington. Harvey said she saw Hayden slumped beside the bed.

"I thought she was teasing me," Hayden testified. "I went down and touched her leg and it was cold.

She said she stumbled from the room and called an operator for help.

"I said, 'My baby's dead,'" she said.

Her screams woke the neighbors.

Harvey fought through tears several times on the witness stand but broke down in sobs as she left the courtroom.

She was among the last witnesses to testify for the prosecution in the capital murder trial of Ryland Shane Absalon, 45, a former schoolmate of Hayden's at Arlington Heights High School who lived in the apartment upstairs.

Prosecutors Lisa Callaghan, Jim Hudson and Anna Summersett have presented DNA evidence linking Absalon to the crime, and several witnesses have testified about confessions he made while undergoing drug and alcohol abuse treatment a few years after the killing.

Defense attorney Gary Udashen has told jurors that Absalon falsely confessed because of pressure to participate during the Straight Inc. program, a controversial drug rehabilitation program that was eventually shut down because of abuse allegations.

Two former participants testified Thursday about hearing Absalon confess to stabbing a girl while in group therapy in 1986.

Stefany Knight, now a social worker in Arkansas, said Absalon told the group that he was high on heroin when he stabbed a young woman to death.

"Shane stood up to admit to wrongdoing when he was high on heroin," Knight testified. "He said he killed a girl ... stabbed her. He had a knife. He waited in the closet, then he stabbed her on the bed."

Details of the confession closely mirror the facts in the slaying. Hayden was found slumped beside her blood-soaked bed and had been stabbed 57 times.

Another former participant, Michele Valencia, who now owns a physical therapy clinic in Plano, said the confession made her "ill, sick to my stomach."

But she later testified under questioning from the defense that the goal of the untrained program staff was to force people to admit to wrongdoing even if it wasn't true. She said she told the group she was a drug-addict and alcoholic even though she wasn't, just to get out of the program.

"It was cult-like," she said. "There was some brainwashing going on ... I learned I had to conform. I had to do it to get out."

Earlier in the day, Deputy Medical Examiner Marc Krouse told jurors that Hayden's injuries indicate she fought back against her knife-wielding assailant, but that the onslaught of stab wounds eventually killed her.

Krouse said that four stab wounds were "very bad" and several potentially lethal, but the 53 other stabs and cuts contributed to the massive blood loss that eventually killed her.

The defense is expected to begin presenting its case this morning. If convicted of capital murder, Absalon would face automatic life in prison but would be eligible for parole after 20 years. Because he was under 18 at the time of the killing, he is not eligible for the death penalty.

Dianna Hunt, 817-390-7084

Twitter: @DiannaHunt

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