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Thursday, 15 March 2012 03:00

Swain murder trial gets under way

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Tiffany Marion remained stoic as witnesses recounted their version of events and attempted to recall more than three-year-old conversations surrounding the 2008 murder of two Swain County residents.

It wasn't until an audio recording of a police interview with her friend Jada McCutcheon was played that Marion began to sob. McCutcheon hanged herself in 2009 while awaiting trail in the Haywood County jail.

McCutcheon, then 19, had a tiny, child-like voice to match her diminutive, less than 5-foot frame.

"That was not our intention, but that is what ended up happening," McCutcheon said during a interview with law enforcement officials just days after two Swain County men were found murdered in their home. McCutcheon and Marion were two of six people charged in connection to the double homicide.

It seemed that just days after the crime, McCutcheon's conscience began wearing on her and hindering her ability to sleep.

"Every time I close my eyes, I see two freaking dead people that somebody shot," McCutcheon said.

Marion, who was 25 at the time of the crime, is currently on trial in Swain County.

Her indictment includes a slew of charges: two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of first-degree burglary, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of first-degree kidnapping and 18 counts of accessory after the fact.

Marion is the first of two suspects to stand trial in connect with the Swain County murders. Mark Goolsby, of Sylva, will face a jury at a later date. His charges are identical to Marion's. However, he only faces nine counts of accessory after the fact.

Marion's trial is in its third week, and more than 400 pieces of evidence have been presented showing what investigators collected at the crime scene and at the residences where the suspects were found.

Though no DNA evidence connects Marion to the inside of Wiggin's home, prosecutors pointed out that no DNA evidence matching Jeffrey Miles, Jason Johnson or Dean Mangold was found in the residence — yet each pleaded guilty to various charges.

Marion's fingerprints were found on a stolen white Ford truck owned by Scott Wiggins.

The defense has argued that Marion was at most an accessory because she was present at one of the getaway vehicles, a gold Honda Odyssey, while the crime was taking place.

Based on McCutcheon's interviews, the defense argued that Marion could have been so out-of-her-mind on drugs that she did not know what was transpiring. And if that were the case, Marion might not have known about the robbery and murders until her arrest days later.

During one of McCutcheon's interviews, she asserted that no one discussed the events of Aug. 8, 2008 once they had occurred.

"Nobody talks about it," said McCutcheon, who also stated that Marion seemed messed up on drugs.

When an investigator informally interviewed Marion at the apartment where she and McCutcheon were found, Marion asked if the boys had robbed the casino and if that was why the police came knocking.

Among the other evidence is a less than 30-minute audio-recorded interview with McCutcheon telling her version of what happened on Aug. 8.

Throughout each of the at least three interviews between law enforcement officials and McCutcheon, the teenager repeatedly stated that Marion had remained by the group's van during the murders and robbery. McCutcheon indicated that Marion might have been too messed up to know what was happening.

During their trip, the group smoked weed and took ecstasy. The ecstasy tablets were mixed with cocaine, methamphetamines or heroin.

The foursome drove up to Cherokee on Aug. 5, where at least two of them — Marion and Miles — gambled at the casino. After winning about $2,700 that day, Miles rented a room in Harrah's hotel where they stayed for a couple days. At some point on Aug. 7, Miles and Johnson traveled to a nearby Walmart. There they met Goolsby and Mangold, of Sylva, who returned to Harrah's with them.

Later that night, Goolsby and Mangold told the out-of-towners about a good place to "hit a 'lick" or rob. The group, taking directions from "the white boys" as McCutcheon often referred to them, drove to a dirt drive near John Henderson Road and parked. Following some discussion, McCutcheon said, she, Miles and Johnson approached the house where Wiggins and Heath Compton lived during the early hours of Aug. 8. And, as Miles and Johnson held the two Swain County residents at gunpoint in an office-type room, McCutcheon ransacked the house, gathering up anything of value.

During the robbery, Miles killed both Wiggins and Compton, McCutcheon said. Miles also shot local Timothy Waldroup twice after he had stumbled upon the scene, she stated during an interview with investigators. Despite this, Waldroup survived the incident. However, he died of a drug overdose before he could testify in court.

Later in the day on Aug. 8, the Georgians drove back to Decatur where police arrested them just a few days later.


THE CRIME

On Aug. 8, 2008, officers from the Swain County Sheriff's Office and agents with the State Bureau of Investigation responded to a double homicide at 211 John Henderson Road in Bryson City.

In the early hours of that morning, intruders had entered the house where David Scott Wiggins, 33, and Michael Heath Compton, 34, lived. The invaders stole items from the house and shot both men.

THE SCENE

Swain County is a close-knit Western North Carolina county with low crime rates and less than one homicide a year. The county has nearly 14,000 residents spread over its scenic, wooded lands.

THE SUSPECTS

After a few days of investigation, law enforcement officials arrested six individuals who they believe were linked to the crime: Mark Steven Goolsby and Dean Raymond Mangold, of Sylva, and Tiffany Leigh Marion, Jason Christopher Johnson, Jeffrey Czechonna Miles II and Jada McCutcheon, of Decatur, Ga.

The four Georgians had traveled to Western North Carolina a couple days prior to Aug. 8 to gamble at Harrah's Casino in Cherokee. While in the area, they met Goolsby and Mangold who, investigators say, directed them to the house and told them that it contained valuable goods.

Marion is the first of two suspects to stand trial in connect with the Swain County murders. Mark Goolsby, of Sylva, will face a jury at some later date, and McCutcheon hanged herself in 2009.

The other three defendants — Miles, Mangold and Johnson — all pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder, three counts of first-degree kidnapping and two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon. Mangold is serving minimum of 212 months for those charges as well as two counts of second-degree murder. Miles and Johnson must serve two consecutive life sentences for the two murders followed by a minimum of 189 months for those charges and one count of attempted first-degree arson.

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