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Testimony in Upshur County murder trial describes grisly scene

By Christina Lane
Aug. 21, 2012 at 11 p.m.

GILMER - An Upshur County sheriff's investigator testified Tuesday that the defendant in a murder trial refused to let law enforcement officers search her property after she reported a vehicle fire in which her husband's body was discovered.

Investigator Chris McCauley testified in 115th District Court that after obtaining a search warrant Aug. 30, 2011, to enter the premises of Gordon and Sharon Maxwell in Ore City, investigators found a macabre scene - sheets missing from a bed, cleaning supplies strewn through the kitchen and blood splattered across the walls and ceiling of the couple's bedroom.

Sharon Maxwell would have been the sole beneficiary of a $175,000 life insurance policy on her 10th husband, whom she had married just months before his death. Her murder trial began Tuesday.

"She killed her husband. She killed his body, and ultimately, she tried to burn his soul," Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd said in his opening statement.

According to testimony, the couple married March 20, 2011, and Gordon Maxwell went to work at U.S. Steel the next day, taking out the life insurance policy and listing his wife as the sole beneficiary, Edward Konrady of U.S. Steel testified. Maxwell had to be employed for 90 days (until about late June) before the policy would take effect, Konrady said.

On Aug. 30, after Sharon Maxwell called sheriff's dispatchers to report a car fire, her husband's charred body was found inside the vehicle at the couple's home on Texas 155 in Ore City. An autopsy later showed he died of multiple gunshot wounds.

In the 911 call played in court, Maxwell is heard calling her husband's name and telling dispatchers that she can't find her husband.

Investigator Mark Moore testified he responded to the fire, finding Maxwell's body in the floorboard with the head in the driver's side and his legs in the passenger side floorboard.

Liquids pooled in the floorboard appeared to be an accelerant such as a gasoline, Moore testified.

Emerald Nazareno, who works in the forensic arson laboratory of the state fire marshal's office, testified that liquid found in the driver side floorboard, passenger side floorboard and clothing removed from Gordon Maxwell's body all tested positive for gasoline.

Investigator McCauley told the six-man, six-woman jury that after obtaining the search warrant to look for anything that might have started the fire, he entered the home to take pictures.

When he saw blood stains on the wall above the headboard of the bed, McCauley called investigator Chase Mullins into the bedroom. McCauley testified that Mullins alerted him to blood spatters on the ceiling, and the two investigators backed out of the house until a search warrant for a criminal investigation could be obtained.

After receiving a second search warrant, McCauley testified, officers found an empty pistol box in Sharon Maxwell's bedroom, but the weapon was not found in the house. McCauley said he did not see Maxwell at the home during the search.

Blood spatter expert Dan Reigstad, a detective in the Longview Police Department, testified it appeared Maxwell was shot repeatedly as he lay in bed. Most likely, Reigstad testified, the person who shot him would have been kneeling on the bed to the victim's right, with a pistol most likely pointed at the victim's head.

Reigstad told the court he found it odd, when he entered the room, that all sheets and bedding had been removed from the bed. Reigstad said he and investigators discovered a black trash bag full of bedding in the kitchen.

No one testified Tuesday that the blood spatters belonged to Gordon Maxwell.

Defense attorney Matthew Patton postponed his opening statement until the state rests its case.



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