Lufkin man on trial 7 years after death of Nacogdoches man


Cox East Texas

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rodney Wayne Cearley never told police about the night in 1999 he killed a Nacogdoches man because he thought no one would believe him, his attorney told Angelina County jurors Tuesday.

Cearley fatally stabbed Michael Wayne Grimes, 30, in self-defense during an argument on Jan. 18, 1999, said Ryan Deaton, Cearley's defense attorney.

Texas Rangers arrested Cearley in 2006, charging him with murder seven years after Grimes' death.

With testimony beginning on Tuesday, the Angelina County District Attorney's Office is trying Cearley for murder. Grimes' body has never been recovered, and the alleged murder weapon was never found.

Cearley, 42, pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning to the murder of Michael Wayne Grimes, 30. Grimes was last seen alive in January 1999 at Ken's Wrecking Yard on U.S. Highway 59 North, a business then owned by Cearley's parents. Initially reported as a missing person, Grimes' disappearance later turned into a murder investigation. In 2004, the case was reopened by the Texas Rangers' Unsolved Case Unit. Rangers arrested Cearley for murder 18 months later.

During opening arguments Tuesday, Deaton and state prosecutor Katrina Carswell told the jury similar stories of a dispute that erupted between Grimes and Cearley Jan 18, 1999. That evening, Cearley, his girlfriend and Grimes had been partying at Cearley's house at the wrecking yard. Grimes asked Cearley's girlfriend to drive him to a store so he could purchase pseudoephedrine tablets, a main ingredient used to manufacture meth, according to attorneys' statements in court. When she refused, Grimes became upset and threatened to kill her.

Both attorneys disagreed on what happened next. Deaton said Grimes pulled a knife on Cearley's girlfriend, so she left. Grimes then began threatening Cearley with the knife, so Cearley fatally stabbed him in self-defense, Deaton said.

Carswell said Grimes threatened to kill Cearley's girlfriend, so she left. Grimes and Cearley began arguing, and then Cearley killed Grimes — the story Cearley later confided to three people, Carswell said.

"He told his mother he killed a man," she said. "He told (her) how hard it was to get the blood off his hands."

When questioned several times by investigators about Grimes' disappearance, Cearley said he didn't want to talk about it, Carswell said.

Grimes' mother, Darlene Mahavier, took the stand Tuesday morning. She talked about the disappearance of her son, who was living with her at the time. "I didn't know what had happened," she said. "Most of the time I knew where he was at and when he was coming home."

In early February 1999, Mahavier said she filed a missing person's report. It was then, she testified, she knew something was wrong.

In 2004, years after the case went cold, the Angelina County Sheriff's Office turned it over to the Texas Rangers' Unsolved Case Unit — a division of the state that devotes its resources to solving cold cases. During the investigation, new witnesses were developed, eventually providing the agency with enough evidence to request a warrant from a judge. Grimes' body and the alleged murder weapon were never found.

Before the case had been turned over, Mahavier said investigators would call her from time to time when a body had been found in the area. They wanted to compare her DNA sample with the DNA from the body to determine if the remains could be her son, she said. "But it was never him," she said, her voice wavering.

The state is expected to call more witnesses to the stand Wednesday.

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