Breckenridge Texan

September 21
23:03 2017

For the second day in a row, friends and family of murder victim Leah Martin filed into the first three rows of the Stephens County District Courtroom as soon as the doors were opened today, Thursday, Sept. 21. Several of them wore purple clothing or ribbons in memory of Martin.

During the initial search for Martin after she went missing on May 29, 2015, purple was reported to be her favorite color. Purple ribbons were hung around Graham, where she was last seen alive, during the search and subsequent demonstrations encouraging community support before and after her body was discovered in August of that year.

The trial being held in Breckenridge on a change-of-venue is for Elton Carroll “E.C.” Blair, one of three men charged with murder in Martin’s death. One of the other two men, Billy Ray Minkley Jr., pleaded guilty to his murder charge Wednesday during the Blair trial lunch break.

It was revealed in Thursday’s court session that in exchange for the guilty plea and testimony against Blair, Minkley would be offered a plea bargain in another case in which he was indicted for capital murder for killing three people in Fort Worth in 2014. As part of the deal with the State, Minkley was offered a life sentence on a murder charge and will not face the death penalty in the Fort Worth case.

“You do realize that you will spend the rest of your life in prison? You do realize that you will mostly likely die in prison?” David Alex of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office asked Minkley. He answered “Yes, sir,” to both questions. Alex has been appointed as a special prosecutor to assist 90th District Attorney Dee Peavy.

Later during his cross examination, Blair’s defense attorney, David Wimberley of Breckenridge, questioned the timing of Minkley’s confession in the Martin case. Prior to being charged with capital murder in the Fort Worth case, Minkley had only confessed to disposing of Martin’s body; he implicated Blair and Ross Hellams, the third man charged in the murder, of killing her.

Wimberley said that Minkley changed his testimony to say that he had delivered the deadly blows to Martin only after there was an opportunity to make a deal in the Fort Worth case.

During Alex’s direct questioning, Minkley described, how in the weeks leading up to Martin’s murder, he and his longtime friend Hellams talked to Blair about killing Martin. He said Hellams was the one who brought up the situation first, telling Minkley that there was someone at Blair’s auto repair shop that was causing problems.

Martin not only worked in the office of the auto shop and was the former girlfriend of Blair’s son, she also was having an affair with the married Blair.

Minkley testified that the first time the situation was discussed with Blair, the three were in the shop’s office. “E.C. was talking about Leah ruining his life. Ross was talking about needing to take care of Leah because he was sick and tired of issues at the shop,” Minkley said. “It was clear they wanted me to take care of Leah. (Blair) wanted her dead. Ross wanted her dead.”

He went on to say that on several occasions, the three men talked about different ways that Martin could be killed and that he directly and confrontationally confirmed with Blair that he wanted him to kill Martin. During one of those discussions, Minkley said, he threatened to kill Blair and his entire family if Minkley killed Martin and Blair told anyone.

Throughout his testimony, Minkley revealed one lie after another that he had told. He admitted to lying to Hellams, Blair, the investigators, and more about a wide range of topics. At one time, he concurred with Alex that some people might find parts of his story difficult to believe.

When Minkley got to the point in the testimony where he described how he – with Hellams’ help –  killed Martin, several members of Martin’s family became emotional as he gave graphic details of her last living moments. Minkley told Alex that both he and Hellams had been smoking methamphetamine the day they killed Martin.

Additionally, Minkley testified step-by-step how he disposed of Martin’s body on Hellams’ property, burying her in a relatively shallow grave, pouring two bags of concrete over her body, covering her with dirt and then piling trash on top of the site.

Wimberley was cross-examining Minkley when District Judge Stephen Bristow called for an end to the day’s court session. The testimony is scheduled to resume again at 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 22.

 

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

 

 

 

 

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