The prosecution in the Sharon Anne Maxwell murder trial presented recordings this week showing she gave authorities three contradictory accounts of events surrounding the Aug. 30, 2011, death of her husband, who was shot before his body was placed in his pickup and burned.
Mrs. Maxwell, a 44-year-old former Upshur County jailer, pled not guilty to shooting her 46-year-old tenth husband, Gordon Lynn Maxwell, on the opening day of testimony Tuesday in 115th District Court.
Prosecution testimony continued Wednesday and Thursday and the trial was set to resume at 9 a.m. Friday near The Mirror’s press deadline for this edition.
Mrs. Maxwell made a 911 call on Aug. 30, 2011, to report her husband’s truck was afire at their home on Hwy. 155 near Ore City, and that she didn’t know his whereabouts. Later that day, she told Upshur County Fire Marshal Paul Steelman in a videotaped interview that a gun somehow discharged after her husband attacked her with it inside the home, and that she put the body in the truck.
And six months later, last March 6, she told investigators in another videotaped interview that her son, James Potter, then 19, had shot Maxwell and that she guessed she “was trying to save” Potter.
The state does not consider Potter a suspect in his stepfather’s death.
Although the prosecution, led by Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd, presented evidence that Mrs. Maxwell had collected life insurance on her husband, Byrd told Judge Lauren Parish outside the jury’s presence Thursday the state believes her actual motive for the crime was that the defendant “was sleeping with several other men” and “we believe that Mr. Maxwell was walking out the door” on her.
Testimony indicated Maxwell was shot in the brick home’s master bedroom before his body was dragged on a comforter to the truck, which Mrs. Maxwell admitted both on the day of the shooting and on March 6 that she doused the body with gasoline. According to testimony, an autopsy showed Maxwell was shot once in the forehead and three times in the left side of the head, and died of “homicidal violence,” including multiple gunshot wounds.
Authorities found numerous weapons in the home, but have not recovered any firearm that they believe is linked to the slaying.
On Wednesday, the state presented the March 6 tape, in which Mrs. Maxwell said she was in the kitchen when she heard several gunshots, and that she went to the bedroom, where she found her husband dead in bed with blood on his head and Potter standing there.
Potter had come through the kitchen before the shooting, she told sheriff’s investigators. Asked if she saw him holding the gun in the bedroom, Mrs. Maxwell replied, “I wasn’t paying attention to that. I don’t know if he still had it in his hand.”
She said she didn’t ask Potter why he shot Mr. Maxwell. However, she said she picked up the weapon, which she said was her husband’s .22-caliber pistol. Sheriff’s Investigator David Cruce testified she said she tried to hide the gun in the attic.
Mrs. Maxwell said she and her son were crying, upset, and that she didn’t know what to do. She said she instructed him to put a bag around the body and that she dragged the corpse off the bed.
After telling Potter to help her, she said, she moved the pickup and poured gasoline in the motor and across the seat. She said she didn’t know if Potter (who has not testified) lit the truck or how it caught on fire.
Upon hearing a “whoosh,” she said, she called 911.
Mrs. Maxwell said her son had “been through so much” with medical problems, that he had just been released from a hospital (testimony indicated he had a stint implanted for kidney disease), and that he was taking “all kinds of medications.”
“I don’t believe my son is a murderer,” Mrs. Maxwell said. She said she was “beside myself” and “I guess I was trying to save my son. . .I had no idea what just happened.”
She indicated Potter and her husband had a strained relationship.
But on Thursday, the state presented the videotaped interview in which Mrs. Maxwell, who knew Steelman before the slaying, told him Maxwell had put a pistol in her mouth, tried to kill her, and slammed her down before the gun fired.
She told Steelman she and her husband began arguing before arriving home from taking the family’s children that morning to Ore City School. He had gotten off work at nearby U.S. Steel in Lone Star about 7 a.m.
When they got home, she said, her husband put the gun in her mouth and “told me he was going to kill me.”
Maxwell “grabbed me by the hair of the head, slammed me down in the bed, and told me I wasn’t going anywhere,” she said.
She said they were fighting over the pistol and “the gun went off. I don’t know what happened. . . I didn’t have it.”
She said she didn’t intentionally shoot him, but was instead “trying to get away from him.” Potter was asleep at the time, she said.
With the audio from the tape difficult to understand at times, Steelman summarized for the jury what Mrs. Maxwell told him. He said she related that she knocked the gun out of her mouth and that it went off, but her finger was not on the trigger.
Steelman said she also told him she didn’t intend to hurt Maxwell, who had married her only the prior March.
Mrs. Maxwell said she didn’t know what to do after the shooting, and that she put Maxwell’s body in the truck because she did not want to discredit him. Maxwell was a minister and had pastored a Baptist Church in Louisiana.
Maxwell’s ex-wife of nearly 16 years, Rhonda Maxwell, testified he had never been violent with her.
One of Maxwell’s ex-husbands testified she had abruptly told him both times they were married to each other that the marriage was ending, and another man testified he had a sexual encounter with the defendant only 15 days before the shooting.
The victim’s brother, Chris Maxwell, testified he was passing by the home by coincidence when he saw the fire. He said James Potter was wearing pajama bottoms, shirtless, and shoeless, appeared upset and confused, and acted “like he was still trying to wake up.”
A co-worker of Gordon Maxwell, Billy Harmon, testified Thursday he noticed Maxwell had become “somewhat depressed” and told him “he was having problems at home.”
Harmon said Maxwell told him his wife “was good with a .357” pistol, and Harmon said he told Maxwell he should not stay in a relationship “that could cut his life short.”
Gilmer attorney Matthew Patton is representing Mrs. Maxwell. A 6-man, 6-woman jury with two male alternates is hearing the case.