Jury acquits Danita Whitehead

10:00 am | December 12, 2013
1A-THU-Whitehead

Photo by Max Hrenda
Danita Whitehead hugs her attorney, Don Spurrell, after a jury found her not guilty of the attempted second-degree murder of her ex-husband, Edward “Zane” Church.

After two days of hearing a literal “he said-she said” description of events, a Carter County jury decided not enough had been said to convict a Roan Mountain woman of attempted murder.

On Wednesday afternoon, the jury found Danita Whitehead, 52, not guilty on counts of attempted second-degree murder and attempted voluntary manslaughter that stemmed from an incident in 2011 that left her ex-husband, Edward “Zane” Church, with knife wounds.

After the verdict was read, Whitehead was seen wiping tears from her eyes before hugging her attorney, Don Spurrell. And when Judge Robert Cupp dismissed the jury, as they walked past her table, she thanked them as they passed.

Throughout the course of the trial, Spurrell argued that the prosecution lacked significant evidence to convict Whitehead “without reasonable doubt.” After the jury’s verdict, he speculated that the jury recognized that shortcoming.

“There was substantial doubt in this case,” Spurrell said. “The jury saw it for what it was, and could not establish guilt without reasonable doubt on any imaginable level.”

And Spurrell pointed to a specific moment he believed may have played a significant part in the jury’s decision.

Emergency crews responded to a Sept. 28, 2011, call from 245 Stout Hollow Road saying that Church had been stabbed; Church would tell responding officers that Whitehead, his then-wife, was the one who stabbed him.

Hours after the incident, Whitehead was interviewed by CCSD Investigator Travis Ludlow and Capt. Thomas Smith. In that interview – which was videotaped and shown to the jury – she told Ludlow and Smith that Church was the aggressor, and that the wounds he sustained were either self-sustained or from her acts to defend herself.

During the interview, Ludlow asked if there was any reason investigators would find her fingerprints on the knife used to cut Church, to which Whitehead replied they would not.

That moment, to Spurrell, was key.

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