Closing arguments were to begin Wednesday afternoon in the second-degree murder trial of 33-year-old Zachary Gardner of Winfield. He is accused in the January 2017 killing of his wife, Melissa.
The defense rested Wednesday morning after testimony by Zachary Gardner. Closing arguments were to begin at 1:45 p.m. at the Cowley County Courthouse in Winfield.
The state rested Tuesday after Cowley County Attorney Larry Schwartz presented 13 witnesses during several hours of testimony.
Among those to testify included:
Amy Moore, Melissa’s sister, who approached the couple’s home at 504 E. Fourth on Jan. 15, 2017, the day Melissa’s body was found.
No one had heard from Melissa that day and the family was becoming concerned. Amy Moore had the couple’s children with her because Melissa and Zach had been fighting.
After taking the kids skating, Moore observed that the hood to Melissa’s vehicle was now up, which seemed odd because it was raining. She dropped the children off and returned to check on Melissa that evening around 6.
The screen door of the couple’s home was shut however the wooden door behind it was open. The Gardners usually kept both shut. Amy Moore let herself inside. She yelled for Melissa.
Immediately she saw a purse with its contents dumped all over the floor. As she moved into the home she approached a hallway to the bedroom and saw a red blanket. When Moore walked by the blanket a foot brushed hers.
She knew the person underneath was her sister and she touched the foot and called for Melissa to respond. The foot felt stiff to her and she removed the blanket, turned the body over and knew her sister was dead.
Moore rushed from the house, began to call 911 and collapsed at the bottom of the porch stairs.
As police arrived, Zachary Gardner is said to have emerged from the side of the house. He asked, repeatedly, why police were at his home and was then restrained. Amy Moore had a brief altercation with Zachary Gardner and was kicking him.
Amy Moore was then restrained by police and separated from Zachary Gardner the day of the crime.
A police officer testified that Amy Moore accused Zachary Gardner of killing her sister.
Under cross examination, Amy Moore acknowledged that she hadn’t liked Zachary Gardner and had not attended the couple’s wedding.
Amy Moore said Melissa’s body had begun to swell which was supported by medical testimony later in the day. The swelling, according to testimony, indicated Melissa Gardner had been dead for some time when her body was found.
Amy also recounted an incident from November 2016 in which she saw Melissa with a bruised and twisted ankle. Melissa also had a bruise on her left eye and jawbone and a split lip.
Melissa told Amy she had been in an altercation with Zachary Gardner.
Chad Giles and Mike Brown, attorneys for Mr. Gardner, had asked that the testimony from Nov. 2016 not be admitted. Judge Nick St. Peter ruled against that request.
Cindy Moore – Melissa’s mother testified that Zachary Gardner texted her at 4:20 p.m., a couple hours before Melissa’s body was discovered, and said that “Mel isn’t feeling well. She’s asleep. I’m taking care of things.”
Moore said she and her daughter talked everyday and she became concerned when Melissa hadn’t contacted her. She replied to Zachary Gardner’s text and said she wanted to hear from Melissa herself.
Sgt. David Dougherty – Winfield police investigator conducted interview with Zachary Gardner the day of Gardner’s arrest.
Gardner began by telling Dougherty that the gun recovered from the scene was not loaded.
Dougherty testified that Gardner told him he had been drug free since New Year’s Eve. Blood drawn the day Gardner was arrested, however, will later show that he was positive for meth and two other substances.
Gardner said his wife had been doing meth and that two other men were in the home. Gardner went to bed with a gun – which he had picked up that day from his father and was planning to sell – and valuables because he was nervous about the other people at his home.
At one point, Zach woke up to go to the bathroom and spoke to Melissa about the men at the home. She told him they would leave once she found her keys.
Dougherty testified as to Gardner’s initial account of what had happened the day his wife was killed. Gardner – who served in Iraq and was involved in three IED attacks there – suffers from PTSD and has nightmares.
In that initial interview, he told investigators he went to sleep that night with his hand on a gun under his pillow. The gun was later described as a 40 caliber Smith & Wesson. Zachary told police he had been awakened from a dream by the sounds of a scream he knew to be coming from his wife.
Zachary Gardner woke up and fired a shot that would strike his wife and prove fatal.
Dougherty said Gardner realized it was his wife and applied a tourniquet to Melissa’s wound and gave her “field first aid.”
Gardner was questioned as to why he didn’t contact police immediately about his wife being shot. He told Dougherty that three cell phones in the house were not working properly. Two needed charged and the other needed a SIM card, he said.
Police later found phone charging cables in his backpack and Melissa’s mother also testified she received a text from Gardner.
He also acknowledged that Amy Moore, Melissa’s sister, visited the home twice to get skating money for the kids. Gardner did not tell her Melissa had been shot.
Gardner said he was trying to take care of things on his own.
On cross examination, Dougherty acknowledged he had lost a significant portion of his notes on the interview with Gardner, due to a computer issue.
Three Cowley County Jail corrections officers testified that Gardner had threatened to “kill that b***h” when arrested in early Dec. 2016 on another charge. He did not mention Melissa by name.
Gardner was also heard, by a corrections officer, saying his wife had cheated on him and that he was going to kill her.
During the morning session Tuesday, jurors also heard from Eric Jarvis of the Winfield Police Dept.; Alice Waldrop of the Cowley County Sheriff’s Dept.; Dakota Richardson of Winfield Police; Nicole Hills, formerly of Winfield PD and Pete Rowley, of Winfield Fire.
Jarvis recovered the gun the day of the arrest. Waldrop sat with Zachary Gardner while he was detained at his house. Rowley helped clear the house after police arrived. Hills helped with the processing of evidence at the home.
Bryan Dennett, coroner for Cowley County, testified that a single bullet struck Melissa Gardner in the left forearm. It entered her abdomen and then lodged in her back.
The bullet nicked Melissa’s aorta. Dennett estimated Gardner had been dead about 12 hours when her body was discovered. It also appeared the body had been “moved around” he said because there were trails of blood throughout the house.
Dennett said Gardner’s abdomen was full of blood. In his opinion, it would have taken some time for her to die due to the amount of distension and rigor mortis.
Testing of the 40-caliber Smith & Wesson led to the determination it was the weapon that fired the bullet that killed Melissa Gardner. Both defense and prosecution agreed this was fact.
Both sides also agreed to findings that Melissa was struck by one projectile that struck her arm and entered her abdomen.
Drug use – Zachary Gardner testified that he and his wife would do meth intravenously.
Gardner also tested positive for methamphetamine when police drew his blood during the murder investigation.
Testimony during trial indicated the Gardners would get high together. Amy Moore recalled Melissa appearing high during a visit to the Gardner home not long before Melissa’s death.
Moore also said Zachary Gardner was acting high the day of the crime.