NASHVILLE, Tenn -- A defense lawyer acknowledged Tuesday that her truck driver client left a slain woman's body at a Nashville truck stop, but insisted he didn't kill her and said the evidence against him is entirely circumstantial.
Public defender Dawn Deaner made the assertions in her opening statement in the trial of Bruce Mendenhall, charged with murdering 25-year-old Sarah Hulbert whose body was found at the truck stop in June 2007.
Although case may seem open and shut, "Bruce Mendenhall did not kill Sarah Hulbert," Deaner said.
Mendenhall, 59, of Albion, Ill., also has been charged with killing women in Lebanon, Tenn., Indianapolis and Birmingham, Ala.
Deaner said there is no dispute that Hulbert was in Mendenhall's truck at the time of her death or shortly thereafter. There is also no dispute that he disposed of her body at a Nashville truck stuck or that the gun used to shoot Hulbert was found in his truck. But the lawyer maintained that the evidence to be presented at the trial will not show that he killed her.
Mendenhall has blamed others in Hulbert's death.
Prosecutor Tom Thurman, in his own opening statements, discounted the idea that others were to blame. He told jurors that they would hear a recorded jail conversation of Mendenhall saying that an inmate was after him "because I killed a friend of his girl," and he had to be placed in protective custody.
That statement and others, the prosecutor said, tie Mendenhall to the crime.
A Nashville jury convicted the truck driver in February of trying to hire a jail inmate to kill three witnesses in this murder trial. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Mendenhall also faces a trial in Wilson County, where he is accused of fatally shooting 48-year-old Symantha Winters in June 2007. The woman's body was found stuffed in a trash can outside a Lebanon truck stop.