By Jean Cole
Martha Defoe had mixed emotions Friday when the man who murdered her daughter at the old Trinity school in Athens accepted a plea deal that took the death penalty off the table.
During an unexpected plea hearing Friday at the Limestone County Courthouse, Lamar Anderson, 48, of Athens, accepted the district attorney's offer to downgrade his charge from capital murder to murder in exchange for a guilty plea. Although Anderson received a life sentence, he will be eligible for parole in a decade or so. However, it would be up to a parole board whether to grant it.
“He now has life, and I have every intention of making it the hardest life it can be,” the Athens mother told The News Courier. “I don’t intend for him to forget what he has taken from me and my family until I quit breathing. If he gets the mail (in prison) and sees who it is from, he may not open it but he’s going to see we haven’t forgotten. He mentally terrorized her and did not seem to care about it, so why should we care about mentally terrorizing him?”
Anderson was formally charged in 2012 with capital murder, burglary and violating a protection order in connection with the March 2011 murder of his estranged girlfriend, 26-year-old Wendy Defoe, also known as Wendy Defoe Bond. Anderson's case had been set for trial Aug. 26. However, in a pre-trial hearing, counsel for Anderson – including Harlan Mitchell and Kristi Valls — challenged the indictment on capital murder-burglary due to a change in the law regarding the legal definition of a building, District Attorney Brian Jones said.
Could not prove burglary
To commit the crime of second-degree burglary, Jones said an individual must knowingly enter or remain unlawfully in a building with the intent to commit a crime inside the building while armed with a weapon. Alabama defines a building as any structure that may be entered and used for business, public use, lodging or the storage of goods, he said. After Anderson was indicted, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals issued two alternative opinions as to the legal definition of a building, Jones said.
“The Trinity School building, owned by the Athens Limestone Community Association, was, at the time of the crime, and is, currently, empty and in a state of great disrepair,” Jones said. “At the time of the crime, the only piece of furniture contained within the building was one desk where the body of Defoe was discovered.”
The Court of Appeals ruled that a building that is empty and in a state of disrepair must be used for storage or the structure itself cannot be considered a building under state law.
Circuit Judge Robert Baker had ruled Monday during a motion hearing that the school building where Defoe was killed was a building because something was stored there. However, the judge left the question open to address later.
Jones said Friday, “in light of the ruling of the Court of Appeals, the issue of capital murder in this case was going to be decided by one desk sitting in the empty Trinity school building.
“While Athens Police Department and my office have worked countless hours to put Lamar Anderson on death row, we cannot take the chance that the appellate courts of this state would find that one desk sitting in a dilapidated and empty structure is not sufficient storage to constitute a building. Such an outcome would reverse a capital murder conviction and could potentially turn a murderer free. As such, and after consultation with the family, Lamar Wallace Anderson pleaded guilty to murder and received a life sentence.”
Wearing gray and white prison clothes and with his hands cuffed in front of him, Anderson stood before Judge Baker Friday and confirmed his wish to plead guilty to murdering Defoe.
Martha told The News Courier she was glad Anderson, whom she calls by the first name Lamont, did not deny anything at the hearing. She had only one regret about the case not going to trial; that Limestone County residents should have heard the heinousness of the crime.
Anderson will be taken to Kilby prison initially but may be transferred to another prison to serve out his sentence, Jones said. Although Anderson will be eligible for parole at some point, Jones said he doubts the state will ever release him. If it does, Jones said, Anderson would probably be 80 years old before it happened.
Martha said the district attorney met Thursday with the Defoe family to ask if it would be all right to try to plea bargain the case if prosecutors felt they would be unable to prove the burglary charge, which would have been necessary to obtain a conviction on capital murder. Capital murder is a murder committed in the commission of certain felonies, such as burglary, rape or kidnapping. Jones said there was no evidence of rape found at the crime scene, and kidnapping could not be proved due to the unreliability of a witness who claimed to have seen Anderson and Defoe the night of the murder.
Defoe was seeking assistance at a domestic violence shelter at the time of the murder and had previously obtained a protection order to keep Anderson at bay, her mother said. Her body was found inside the abandoned school by Athens police officers who had been called to the scene after a passerby saw a woman’s shoes, book bag, coat and signs of a struggle in the area. Martha said her daughter was struggling to break free of Anderson, and that sometimes she would return to him by choice and other times he made her return by beating her and making threats of harm.