Breckenridge Texan

September 25
20:46 2017

Leah Martin disappeared in Graham the night of May 29, 2015. More than two months later, her body was discovered in a shallow grave. One of the men charged in her death is on trial in Breckenridge. (Photo courtesy of the Martin family)

Lt. Jeff Smith with the Graham Police Department testified Monday, Sept. 25, that several things Elton Carroll “E.C.” Blair Jr. did during the investigation of Leah Martin’s murder were questionable.

Smith said he became the lead investigator in the case when Billy Martin went to the Young County Sheriff’s Office on the night of May 30, 2015, to report his daughter missing. Since Leah’s vehicle was discovered within the city limits, the Sheriff’s Office turned the case over to the GPD.

Blair is one of three men who were charged with the 22-year-old single mother’s murder, and his trial is being held in Breckenridge on a change of venue.

One of the other two men, Billy Minkley Jr., pleaded guilty last week to the murder charge in exchange for a life sentence in this case and the offer of a plea deal in a Fort Worth case in which he has been charged with killing three people. The third co-defendant, Ross Hellams, is in the Young County Jail awaiting his own trial.

Leah was last seen alive by her family on Friday, May 29, 2015, after attending the Graham High School graduation ceremony. The next morning, her vehicle was found parked at E.C.’s Auto Repair on Highway 380 Bypass, which was owned by the defendant and was where Leah worked. Her father, who had been sick and did not attend the graduation, tried several times that Saturday to find out where she was. When he could not find any sign of her, he contacted law enforcement.

Much of Smith’s testimony focused on Blair’s failure to notify anyone all day on May 30, 2015, that Leah’s pickup was at the auto shop but that she wasn’t there, as well as on other elements of his behavior that Smith deemed “suspicious.” Some of those things included the allegations that Blair never told law enforcement officers he had reason to suspect that Hellams had been at the shop on the night of May 29 and that Minkley – who had a lengthy criminal record – was a friend of Hellams and had been around the shop several times. He also reportedly delayed in telling investigators that he was having a relationship with Leah, his son’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of his own granddaughter, and that he had been texting and talking to her the night of May 29, when she was at the graduation.

When District Attorney Dee Peavy asked Smith how he viewed what she called “lies of omission,” he said it was “suspicions. It hampered our investigation, sent us down a rabbit trail.”

During Smith’s testimony, Peavy showed the jury the video-recorded interview that GPD Lt. Jim Reeves and Texas Ranger Toby Catlin conducted with Blair three weeks after Leah went missing. The interview was conducted before her body was discovered buried on Hellams’ land on Aug. 5, 2015.

Smith testified that the police had tried to interview Blair several times earlier but that he didn’t show up, instead sending his employees or his wife to talk with investigators.

The 75-minute interview begins with Reeves asking Blair to tell them anything he can about Leah and what was going on in her life that might have led to her disappearance. Blair details relationships she had with two other men, who he said broke it off with her.

He also repeatedly talked about how close he had been with Leah and how worried he was about her. Blair also talked to the investigators about how he perceived Leah. “She was very open; she’s just always been that way her whole life,” he said. “She’s just always been an underdog, in my opinion. I always took up for her; if she needed something…I never let her go without. I feel sorry for her.”

Blair described his relationship with Leah, frequently stating that he wasn’t proud of the affair and that two weeks prior to Leah’s disappearance was the last time they had been together romantically. “I kept trying to push her to Aaron (Blair’s son). Things just needed to get back to normal. It wasn’t healthy,” he said.

On the stand, Smith testified that something he thought was significant was that, in the interview, Blair referred to Leah in past tense, as if he already knew she was dead, even though her body had not yet been found. Again, Smith deemed that “suspicious.”

District Judge Stephen Bristow decided to temporarily halt Smith’s testimony at about 4:30 p.m. Monday because the next part of the testimony was to include another hour-long video. His testimony will continue at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26.

For the Breckenridge Texan’s story on Monday morning’s testimony, click here.

 

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

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