Breckenridge Texan

September 20
19:28 2017

Billy Ray Minkley Jr.

In what seemed to be an unexpected turn of events for many of those in the Stephens County District Courtroom’s gallery Wednesday, Billy Ray Minkley Jr. of Graham appeared in the court and pleaded guilty to the charge he was facing for the murder of Leah Martin in 2015. His plea was entered during the lunch break in the ongoing trial of Elton Carroll “E.C.” Blair Jr. for the same murder.

Minkley waived his Fifth Amendment rights, his right to a trial and his right to an appeal. In exchange for his guilty plea, he was sentenced to life in prison and a $490 fine. All other fines were waived by the State, but Minkley asked District Judge Stephen Bristow to waive the $490. Bristow said he would consider waiving the fine but that, at this time, it would stand.

There was no discussion about whether or not the guilty plea would affect Minkley’s standing in another case in which he is accused of killing three people in Fort Worth in June 2014. After Wednesday’s court proceedings, District Attorney Dee Peavy declined to comment on the Minkley plea. Everyone involved in the Blair case, including the attorneys, jurors and witnesses are under a “gag order” prohibiting them from discussing the case with anyone – except the attorneys – outside the courtroom.

Wednesday morning’s trial activity began with Blair answering “Absolutely not guilty” when the judge asked him how he pleaded to the charge of murder.

Then, the prosecution and defense presented their opening statements. Peavy presented first, telling the five-man, seven-woman jury that, “There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that may not stand alone, but when it all comes together, you will see who had the motive to kill this girl (Leah Martin).”

In her statement, Peavy said that Blair did not actually kill 22-year-old Martin but that he colluded with an employee to have her killed.

According to Peavy, and corroborated by Blair’s defense attorney David Wimberley, Blair and Martin were involved in a romantic or sexual relationship with each other. Martin was the on-and-off girlfriend of Blair’s son, Aaron Blair, and the mother of Aaron Blair’s daughter, who was 2 years old at the time her mother was killed.

Peavy alleges that E.C. Blair’s relationship with Martin was beginning to cause him family and financial problems and that he was looking for a way to get rid of her.

In his opening statement, Wimberley disagreed with that conclusion and said that the two were in an ongoing relationship and that E.C. Blair loved Martin and wouldn’t have killed her. Moreover, he said, Blair is a smart business man who wouldn’t have taken all of the actions that eventually led to the arrests of Blair, Minkley and a third man, Ross Hellams of Graham, Blair’s employee and friend.

Wimberley also stated that all of the State’s evidence is circumstantial and is not proof that Blair was involved in the murder.

Following the opening statements, Peavy called the first witness, Billy Martin, Leah’s father. After a brief introduction informing the jury of who Martin is, Peavy brought him to tears when she began showing him and the jury photos of Leah throughout her childhood.

“She was a good kid,” Martin said about his daughter, wiping away tears from his face.

Martin detailed not only Leah’s childhood and young adulthood but also the many details of the hours leading up to Leah’s death and the hours and days following her disappearance. Much of his testimony concerned Leah’s relationship with both Aaron Blair and his father, E.C. Blair.

After the lunch break in which Minkley pleaded guilty, Wimberley cross-examined Martin, questioning how much E.C. Blair helped in the search for Leah and other details in the case.

Then, Aaron Blair took the witness stand and was questioned by David Alex, from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. Peavy has appointed Alex as a special prosecutor in this case to assist her.

On several occasions during the questioning and testimony, Aaron Blair disagreed with the way Alex phrased questions and with the conclusions Alex seemed to be making about things Blair had said on the witness stand or that he had previously told investigators.

Aaron Blair said that he had discovered that Leah was having a relationship with E.C. Blair and that her decision not to break it off with E.C., led to Leah and Aaron’s final breakup in the weeks before her death. He also said that the situation led to a feud between him and his father but that they still teamed up to go out looking for Leah when she disappeared.

Aaron Blair confirmed to Alex that he does not currently think that his father killed Leah.

Other testimony was presented by a long-time friend of Leah’s and a relative she had grown up with.

Many of the questions, testimonies, cross examinations, redirects, etc. involved details about when, specifically, phone calls were made or texts were sent, what the witnesses said today compared to their original statements to police two years ago and other information.

For more details on the background of the case, click here to see Monday’s Breckenridge Texan article.

For the earlier Breckenridge Texan’s story that was posted during today’s trial lunch break, click here.

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

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