Fort Worth

Witnesses: Gambler on trial for killing wife with hammer had history of lying, abuse

Mark Andrews, right, was found guilty of the 2016 murder of his wife, a Keller ISD school teacher. He was sentenced Thursday to life in prison and will not be eligibile for parole for at least 30 years.
Mark Andrews, right, was found guilty of the 2016 murder of his wife, a Keller ISD school teacher. He was sentenced Thursday to life in prison and will not be eligibile for parole for at least 30 years. Special to the Star-Telegram

A woman bludgeoned to death with a hammer had once confided to a fellow church member that her husband had started physically abusing her but that she didn't want to report it to police because "she was afraid of repercussions from her husband."

Melissa Harder testified in Mark Andrews' murder trial Tuesday morning that during that visit to Doris Andrews' home in Arizona years ago, she'd seen the bruise to Doris Andrews' left eye, which had been covered with makeup, as well as two red marks on her friend's rib area.

Harder testified that Doris Andrews told her that if she tried to leave her husband, she was afraid he would pursue her.

“She had just adopted this young girl. She had two (other) girls. She had been in a previous marriage. She really wanted this one to work so she was willing to do anything to make it work,” Harder said.

Harder told jurors that she didn’t alert police herself because, she too, was afraid of Mark Andrews, who claimed to have a para-military background with martial arts and weaponry training.

“He once said he was able to make people disappear,” Harder said.

Prosecutors contend that the military claim was Mark Andrews way of exerting intimidation, power and control over his wife and others.

Before resting their case Tuesday, prosecutors called multiple witnesses to testify about lies Mark Andrew's had told through the years in an attempt to chip away at the credibility of the professional gambler who has denied bludgeoning his wife to death with a hammer inside the couple's Azle home.

His lies, according to witnesses, included reporting he'd been fired from an Azle trucking company in his claim for unemployment benefits when he'd actually quit and had even gone back to briefly work there again.

Through witness testimony and evidence presented, prosecutors have indicated that Andrews was a high-stake gamblers who was in financial straits at the time of his wife's death and may have killed her to collect on her life insurance policies.

In addition to a $115,000 policy that Doris Andrews had obtained through her employment with the Keller school district, she also had a second life insurance policy worth more than $258,000 at the time of her death on Jan. 8, 2016.

In both policies, Mark Andrews was the primary beneficiary.

The defense has contended that investigators have been unable to prove that Mark Andrews killed his wife and failed to rule out other possibly suspects.

'You'd be afraid too'

Bruce Grimmett, pastor of what was then known as the First Pentecostal Church of God in Arizona, said Mark Andrews had told him he was a former Army Ranger who had been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and had done several secret missions, some that he couldn’t discuss.

Grimmett said a weeping Doris Andrews later sought he and his wife's counseling at the church.

"She shared with us that she was concerned for her marriage. She felt that Mark was probably being unfaithful," Grimmett said.

Grimmett said he encouraged Doris Andrews to talk with her husband to find out if her suspicions were true.

"She said to me, If I talk to him, he's going to know that I talked to you," Grimmett said.

Grimmett said he told Doris Andrews that was OK and tried to downplay her concerns when she expressed that she was afraid.

"I said, you don't have any reason to be afraid," Grimmett said. "She responded, 'If you knew him like I knew him, you’d be afraid too.' ”

Grimmett said after that final conversation with Doris Andrews, a rift seemed to develop between him and Doris and Mark Andrews.

He said it wasn't long after that Mark Andrews moved to Texas, followed months later by his wife and family.

Grimmett said at the time, he saw no red flags in his conversations with Doris Andrews.

With hindsight, he said, “I wish some flags would have gone up.”

Leah Pittman, a friend and former colleague of Doris Andrews in the Keller school district, testified that she had met with Doris Andrews on Jan. 6, 2016.

Pittman testified that a heaviness seemed to take over the normally happy and positive woman as talk turned to their personal lives. With a hung head, lowered gaze and rounded shoulders, Doris Andrews asked her friend for a favor.

“Pray for Mark,” Leah Pittman said her friend requested of her. "He’s lost and he’s told me he doesn’t know where he’s going.”

Two days later, Doris Andrews was dead.

Defense case

Bryan Rice, a forensic accountant, was the first witness called Tuesday afternoon by defense attorneys Walt Cleveland and Patty Tillman.

Rice testified that he does not believe the Andrews were in dire straits at the time of Doris Andrews’ death.

Instead, the were more like a typical family that lived paycheck-to-paycheck and not saving their money. Under questioning by prosecutor Kevin Boneberg, he acknowledged he may not have been given all the financial records.

Regardless, Rice said nothing in the financial records he reviewed stood out to him as possible financial motivation for someone to commit such a murder.

Testimony will continue Wednesday morning in Criminal District Court No. 1.

Deanna Boyd: 817-390-7655, @deannaboyd