Breckenridge Texan

October 01
21:54 2017

Friday’s court session in the Elton Carroll “E.C.” Blair murder trial ended with the judge refusing the prosecution’s request to revoke the defendant’s bond on the allegations of tampering with a witness. Click here to read more details on that part of Friday’s proceedings.

Earlier in the day, Sept. 29, Texas Ranger Toby Catlin wrapped up his testimony. Special prosecutor David Alex, who is assisting District Attorney Dee Peavy in the case, continued to question Catlin about the security video that shows Blair’s auto repair shop in Graham on the night Leah Martin, 22, disappeared in 2015. Defense attorney David Wimberley then cross-examined Catlin, asking about deleted text messages from Blair to Martin. More details on Friday morning’s session can be read by clicking here.

After Wimberley finished his cross-examination after lunch, the state called witness Raphael “Ralph” Winder to the stand. The 24-year-old mechanic was working for Blair at the time Martin was killed. He testified that he had what he characterized as a “one-night stand” with Martin in 2014 but that he told her he didn’t want to be involved with her when he found out she was still seeing Aaron Blair, the defendant’s son and the father of Martin’s daughter. Then, in January 2015, he got married.

Peavy referred to Winder’s reaction as “reluctant” when she asked him to meet with her about the case. He described himself as “busy.”

Winder said that he and others at the shop knew or suspected that E.C. Blair and Martin were having an affair. “When I would go into the office, they would act like two children who were doing something they wrong,” he said. “I told E.C. that it wouldn’t look very professional if customers came in and saw them.”

The District Attorney asked him, “I take it, you viewed what you thought might be going on with the defendant and Leah as crossing some pretty thick boundaries?” Winder answered, “Yes.”

He also answered questions about his knowledge of and interactions with Ross Hellams and Billy Ray Minkley Jr., both of whom were charged in Martin’s murder. In the first week of Blair’s trial, Minkley pleaded guilty to killing and burying her in a shallow grave; the plea was in exchange for a life sentence and an offer of a deal in another case in which he has confessed to killing three people in Fort Worth. Hellams is still in the Young County Jail.

Winder was once the focus of the police investigation because about a week before Martin disappeared, she and Winder’s wife had an argument at E.C.’s Auto Repair.

“Bad blood between Leah and your wife made you uncomfortable at work,” Peavy said. “Did you kill Leah Martin? Did you have Ross Hellams kill Leah Martin?”

Winder answered “No” to both questions.

During Wimberley’s cross-examination, Winder testified that to his knowledge the security cameras at the repair shop rarely worked in the year and a half the business had been open. The cameras have been a source of scrutiny because they were not working on the day Martin disappeared. She was last seen by family and friends attending the Graham High School graduation on May 29, 2015. Her pickup was found the next day at the auto repair shop, where she had said she was going to pick up a pair of shoes she had left there.

Many of Wimberley’s questions were focused on disputing points made by the prosecution, such as the some changes to the furnishings in the auto repair shop’s office that investigators described as a “remodeling” and called suspicious.

“They never did a remodel,” Winder said. “The building was brand new.”

When asked about the removal of a couch in the office, Winder testified that he recalled a few complaints from customers about the couch because it was too soft and elderly clients couldn’t get up from it. “I thought that’s why they got rid of it,” he said.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Monday, Oct. 2, at the Stephens County Courthouse, where it is being held on a change of venue.


Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

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