Kayla Giles Trial: Witnesses testify about autopsy, alleged abuse reports and Coutee, Jr.’s finances
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - State witnesses continued on the stand on Thursday, January 27 for the trial of Kayla Giles in Rapides Parish. Giles is charged with second-degree murder and obstruction of justice for the September 2018 deadly shooting of her estranged husband, Thomas Coutee, Jr., in a Walmart parking lot during a custody exchange. Giles maintains it was self-defense.
Dr. Christopher Tape, the forensic pathologist who did the autopsy on Coutee, Jr., took the stand. He said he recovered a bullet and a fragment from Coutee, Jr.’s body.
Much of the testimony involved what is known as “stippling,” which comes from gunpowder fired within a certain range. Dr. Tape said generally stippling falls off around two to three feet away. Dr. Tape said stippling was found during the autopsy.
Defense attorney George Higgins kept trying to use the word “close,” which Dr. Tape continued to say is “a little misleading.”
He said he did not like to use the term “close,” as in “close range,” because the word “close” is subjective. Dr. Tape also noted in his report the discovery of abrasions on Coutee, Jr.’s face, possibly post-mortem from the fall, and another on his body possibly from CPR.
Higgins tried to compare the physical size of Coutee, Jr. to that of Giles.
Higgins asked Dr. Tape if it is possible that Coutee, Jr. could be leaning over, indicating his belief that Coutee, Jr. was in a position that Giles could think he could hurt her in her Dodge Durango. Dr. Tape said it “could be,” but also noted that a Dodge Durango is a “tall car too” and Giles’ arm as the shooter could be “higher or lower.”
Higgins asked directly, “Is it consistent with someone leaning in a car?”
Dr. Tape replied, “It is consistent with a million things.”
During re-direct, Assistant Attorney General Brooke Harris asked Dr. Tape if the stippling and its range could be indicative of Coutee, Jr. moving away. Dr. Tape said it could be indicative of moving in “any direction.”
The State called two officers - one who was a former Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy and another who was a former Alexandria Police Department officer. Both were there to testify about reports they took from Coutee, Jr. of alleged assaults on him at the hands of Giles.
The RPSO deputy documented one incident a week after it took place in May 2018 in a tattoo parking lot during a custody exchange in which Coutee, Jr. said he was hit, but did not want to press charges, just document it.
Coutee, Jr. showed the deputy an image of where Giles allegedly hit him and a screenshot of a text message thread that Giles allegedly sent to another person that said, “I just knocked the s*** out of Thomas. It felt good.”
The Alexandria police officer testified about an incident in a Kroger parking lot in August 2018, also during a custody exchange, where the door to a vehicle hit Giles on her behind. That allegedly led Giles to hitting Coutee, Jr. with a closed fist.
The report was sent to detectives.
The officer also recalled a personal conversation he had with Coutee, Jr. where he told him he “wanted to better the life of his daughter.”
On cross-examination, defense attorney Rocky Willson asked if the officer contacted Giles about the incident. He said he handled the initial investigation and the report would have been passed on to a detective. No one contacted him to follow up on his report.
On re-direct, Assistant Attorney General Joseph LeBeau asked if Coutee, Jr.’s injuries were consistent with his allegations against Giles. The officer said it was. There was also a mention of if Giles had made a complaint against Coutee, Jr., there would be records in the Alexandria Police Department’s system.
Before a lunch recess, the State introduced the principal of the Montessori Educational Center, where Giles’ three children were students in 2018. That year was the first year of attendance for the child Giles and Coutee, Jr. shared.
The focus of this witness testimony was the tuition agreement on record for all three children, which was signed by Giles. Within the agreement, which was published to the jury, one page outlines the billing information and itemized payments for each student. Tuition per child is about $5,000 per year.
The tuition management system that Montessori uses to collect payments requires bank account information to be input into the system.
All three children were listed under Coutee, Jr.’s bank account for a payment on Aug. 19, 2018.
The principal noted she had little interaction with Coutee, Jr. prior to Aug. 24, 2018, when he met with her about payments made from his account on Aug. 19, 2018, which he said were not authorized.
During that meeting, the school decided to refund Coutee, Jr. for the charges to his account.
She noted that all payments would be under one account, and you could pay a partial amount of what is owed on the account, but cannot pay for each child listed.
When LeBeau spoke with the witness on re-direct, he asked if Coutee, Jr.’s account was used on Aug. 19 to pay for the tuition of all three of Giles’ children enrolled. She replied, “yes.”
LeBeau then asked if Coutee, Jr.’s account had been used to pay for the tuition of Giles’ two daughters enrolled in the school prior to when the child they shared was enrolled in 2018. She replied, “no.”
Caleb Watkins, financial crimes detective for the Alexandria Police Department, took the stand next.
He recalled Coutee, Jr. filing a complaint in early September 2018 about the payments made to the Montessori. Watkins said Coutee, Jr. dropped off a matrimonial agreement signed May 12, 2018, and a protective order signed on Aug. 24, 2018, at his desk the Monday after making his initial report.
Watkins said he was never able to follow up with Coutee, Jr. because he was killed the Saturday after he first spoke with him.
Watkins followed up with the Montessori and Red River Bank. The account was under Coutee, Jr.’s name only and listed as an “individual” account type.
The prosecution also introduced text messages found on Giles’ laptop dated Aug. 2, 2018. In a series of messages, Giles says, in part, “I found his new bank info,” saying she is going to pay for the Montessori tuition with it. Whoever, Giles was texting replied with “Haha, it will be the best money you have ever spent.”
On cross-examination, defense attorney Rocky Willson questioned whether the matrimonial agreement was valid, saying it looked “homemade” to him. Watkins responded that he took the document at face value and it “looks pretty well put together to me.”
Watkins noted that they were dividing assets, and he was the belief that they were in the process of getting a divorce. Thus, regardless, the payment drafted was unauthorized.
In re-direct, prosecutor Brooke Harris pointed to the fact that Coutee, Jr. and Giles both signed off on the matrimonial agreement, which would mean they both agreed to a statement on the document that says they have “entered into the agreement freely.”
Giles was involved in more than one interaction with Coutee, Jr.’s Red River Bank account. This one has to do with Giles requesting to withdraw money from Coutee, Jr.’s account in December 2019, more than one year after shooting and killing Coutee, Jr.
The prosecution introduced Amanda Barnett, an attorney for Red River Bank.
She outlined there are statutes in place allowing the widow of an account owner to take out up to $20,000 following that spouse’s death. However, there is also a statute in place that does not allow a spouse who commits murder to do that.
The jury viewed emails between Giles and an account manager at the bank, in which the manager said it was unclear whether Giles or Coutee, Jr.’s parents are in charge of the estate.
Giles accuses the bank of being unwilling to cooperate, claiming Louisiana law says the parents of Coutee, Jr. must only be notified.
In the email exchange, Giles never mentions a pending criminal case or that she had already been denied intervention in Coutee, Jr.’s succession. There is also no mention of a separate property agreement, signed by both Couteee, Jr. and Giles on June 11, 2018.
Defense attorney Rocky Willson cross-examined Barnett. He asked if she had come across the matrimonial agreement signed by the two parties when researching legal documents, prior to denying Giles access to Coutee, Jr. and Giles on June 11, 2018.
She said she solely looked at the succession in place.
He also questioned her about tutorship paperwork, which Barnett said she did not look for.
The tutorship paperwork becomes a sticking point for the prosecution on re-direct questioning - and it gets interesting.
Prosecutor Brooke Harris filed into evidence a document on custody and guardianship filed between Melissa Ann Macintosh and Giles. She requested Barnett read aloud a section of that document.
Under that section, Melissa McIntosh was named tutor of the shared child of Coutee, Jr. and Giles. According to what we heard in court, that tutorship paperwork was signed on July 11, 2019, five months before Giles contacted Red River Bank.
We followed up with the Rapides Parish Clerk of Court and found a wrongful death petition served to Giles while in DC-1 that lists Melissa McIntosh as the tutor for the minor child. That petition was filed on Sept. 6, 2019.
Yesterday, the prosecution introduced two jail calls between Giles and two women. During those exchanges, a “flower thing” was involved. This item was identified and shown to the jury to be a flower computer bag with Giles’ laptop.
The woman on the other end of the second jail call, Jennifer Dennis, took the stand today.
Giles’ sister, Jessica Giles, met Dennis in Georgetown the day after Giles was arrested in the shooting death of Coutee, Jr. According to her testimony, during that meeting, Dennis met her to pick up Giles’s dogs. During the meeting, Jessica gave her the flower laptop bag. Dennis claims she did not know she would be picking up the laptop, only the dogs.
The prosecution asked if she did anything with the laptop other than view Giles’ accounts and email, per Giles’ instructions in the jail call, like deleting or changing anything else on the laptop. Dennis said she did not.
Dennis detailed how she was contacted by police, voluntarily giving the laptop over to Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s deputies. She also voluntarily gave a statement to APD’s lead detective, Collin Butler, with an attorney present.
When asked why she talked to the police, Dennis said, “I knew it did not look good, and I knew I was innocent.”
On cross-examination, defense attorney George Higgins accused Butler of scaring Dennis, being “pretty harsh” and threatening to arrest her, all of which Dennis confirmed.
Aside from the obstruction of justice charge, the prosecution also brought up the Snapchat messages between Giles and Dennis. In early 2018, Dennis recalls Giles saying she wanted to kill Coutee, Jr. She also asked to borrow Dennis’ gun, though did not say why she wanted to borrow it. Dennis refused. In August of that year, Giles sent her a picture of a gun she purchased in Texas. Prosecutor Joseph Lebeau took out Giles’ gun and showed it to Dennis, which she confirmed looked like the one Giles sent her a picture of.
Both the prosecution and the defense asked Dennis to recall how much time there was between when Giles said she wanted to kill her husband and when she bought the gun. Dennis said she did not remember.
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