At the start of Memorial Day weekend last year, Michael Hutton invited 17 year olds Hannah Connaway and Claudene Williams over to his house for what Williams said was supposed to be a “calm night.”
The evening turned out to be anything but.
Williams, the first witness to testify in Hutton’s trial, took the stand Wednesday afternoon to recount the events of May 23, 2014, leading to an assault on Connaway that left her with a permanent brain injury.
Hutton, now 20, has already accepted responsibility for three of the six charges he is facing: felony assault inflicting serious bodily injury to the brain, felony assault by strangulation and misdemeanor assault on a female. He has pleaded not guilty to the remaining charges of attempted first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and felony assaulting inflicting serious bodily injury to the victim’s genital area.
“Those first three, we concede; we’re not fighting at all. He did it,” defense attorney Miriam Thompson said during opening statements Wednesday morning. “These other three, that’s the reason we’re here.”
What’s at question in the courtroom is whether Hutton planned at any point during his attack on Connaway to end her life.
During her testimony, a nervous and often tearful Williams laid out the timeline of that night. According to Williams, she and Connaway spent the day at the beach before returning to Connaway’s home to eat dinner with her family.
At some point, she and Connaway hatched a plan to visit the home of Hutton, whose parents were out of town.
Connaway asked to spend the night with Williams, while Williams told her her mother she would be staying with Connaway. In fact, Williams testified, she intentionally left her cell phone at Connaway’s home to avoid pinging the GPS tracking device her mother had installed, thus alerting her to her daughter’s whereabouts.
It was that decision that made it difficult for Williams to call for help as she watched Hutton’s mood change from mildly irritated to violent within an hour of their arrival, she testified. As he was attempting to untangle fishing line, Williams said Hutton became increasingly frustrated with the task.
“Hannah said, ‘Mike, it’s OK. You can do it tomorrow,'” Williams recalled. “He was getting angry at her for trying to calm him down.”
Soon, the fight escalated and evolved into a dispute over texting, and when Connaway suggested that she and Williams leave, Williams said Hutton hit himself in the face.
“He said, ‘Why do you want to leave? Does that mean you want to break up with me?'” Williams said.
Williams said Connaway and Hutton then went inside, and soon after she heard what she described as a hard smacking sound. On the stand, she recalled catching glimpses of Hutton standing over a fallen Connaway–and seeing Connaway’s bloodied face–as she tried in vain to get into the locked house.
Connaway was finally able to get out of the home, Williams said, and as she stumbled outside she repeated, “My head hurts, my head hurts, my head hurts.” But Williams testified Hutton continued to beat her, then put one hand on her throat and another over her mouth.
“He said, ‘You need to shut her up or I will permanently put her to sleep,'” Williams said.
At some point during the altercation inside, Williams was able to find a cell phone, but she didn’t call 911. Instead, she called a friend to come over and help her with the situation.
It was that friend, Sunny Platt–who arrived with her brother, Andrew, and another friend to see Connaway unconscious in the driveway–who called the police.
On cross examination, Thompson questioned Williams’ sobriety the night of the incident, and the clarity of her memory.
“Do you recall smoking marijuana that night?” she asked. “Do you have any recollection of telling anyone with EMS that Hannah had been drinking and smoking pot that night?”
Williams said the trio had been drinking, thought not excessively, but she did not remember anyone smoking marijuana.
Drugs and alcohol are at the heart of the defense’s argument, since Thompson said Hutton was addicted to both. During the defense’s opening statement, she told the jury that around the time of the incident, he was taking three to five Xanax pills a day, drinking regularly and smoking pot.
That abuse, coupled with the use of a prescribed seizure medication, caused Hutton to “black out” routinely, including and on the night he assaulted Connaway, Thompson argued. Prosecutors said Connaway, too, has no memory of the incident.
The drug use, Thompson said, was not an excuse for Hutton’s behavior.
“Nothing about what you hear is going to make you like him,” she told the jury. “And it will probably make you feel disgust for him…But he deserves a fair trial. It’s going to be a difficult trial and there is no happy ending for anyone involved.”
Ahead of opening statements Wednesday, the prosecution and defense selected a new juror to replace a seated member who had to step down to handle an emergency. There are now seven women and five men who will decide Hutton’s fate.
Connaway and Hutton, as well as their parents, are expected to take the stand in the coming days. The prosecution plans to call doctors and investigators with the Wilmington Police Department, while the defense has at least two medical experts set to testify on Hutton’s behalf.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.