Jury likely to decide Mendenhall case today

Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 11:34pm

After calling witnesses and introducing a trove of evidence, including dozens of audio clips, portions of letters and wiretapped dialogue, the prosecution rested its case Thursday afternoon in the murder-for-hire trial of Bruce Mendenhall.

It is likely the case will be sent to the jury for a verdict this afternoon.

Although the trial is the first of what could be several for Mendenhall, the murder-for-hire proceedings have focused less on the defendant — accused of killing Sara Nicole Hulbert in June 2007 — than on the two felons at the center of the murder-for-hire allegations.

According to prosecutors, in May 2008, Mendenhall asked Roy Lucas McLaughlin to kill three of the defendant’s acquaintances while both men were incarcerated at the Davidson Criminal Justice Center.

Unbeknownst to Mendenhall, McLaughlin reported their discussions to police and caught incriminating conversations on a wire he wore. When the defendant learned of the betrayal, prosecutors say he asked another inmate, Michael Ray Jenkins, to kill two police detectives involved with the case for $15,000.

Throughout the trial, the defense has questioned the credibility of the state’s two witnesses, and when presenting their own testimony, Mendenhall’s lawyers focused specifically on tearing down McLaughlin and Jenkins.

Before resting their case Thursday, the prosecution introduced another round of phone clips and portions of letters written by Mendenhall, material the state hoped would document the defendant’s anger toward the detectives who arrested him.

Detective Lee Freeman read the selected passages from the witness stand, which included mention that Freeman and Sgt. Pat Postiglione were on Mendenhall’s “drop dead list” and that he “wanted to take their badges so bad I can taste it.”

Freeman also testified that neither McLaughlin nor Jenkins were offered anything for their testimony against Mendenhall.

The defense called two witnesses to testify Thursday before breaking for the day. Orlando Tippins, a Davidson County Sheriff’s Department deputy, was a guard in the cellblock Mendenhall and McLaughlin shared in 2008. From his daily interactions with McLaughlin, Tippins testified he had determined the inmate was an “untruthful” person.

Another witness, Public Defender’s Office investigator Amber Kasat, recalled her attempts to meet with McLaughlin, directly contrasting what the former inmate said on the witness stand Wednesday.

Due to pretrial motions, the jury has been informed that Mendenhall is charged with the June 2007 murder of Hulbert, but jurors have no knowledge of the other accusations against the defendant. Authorities believe the Albion, Ill., trucker is behind a series of murders that took place along I-40. He’s been indicted on murder charges in Lebanon, Tenn., Indianapolis and Birmingham, Ala.