The fate of Aaron Eugene Carlile will be placed in the jury’s hands this morning following testimony Tuesday on the second day of his murder trial. Carlile is charged with the May 3, 2013, murder of his father-in-law, Thomas Monroe “Sonny” Culwell, and his sister, Marion Almenia Culwell.
Carlile’s attorney, Melanie Blackburn, told the jury they would hear testimony from Carlile. Instead, she called two witnesses before telling the jury, after a break, that the defense rests.
“I did not know if he was going to come out or not until she said he was in her opening statement,” District Attorney Craig Ladd said. “It is certainly his right not to testify.”
The majority of testimony on the second day revolved around testimony from the state medical examiner’s office and the OSBI. Although Carlile did not testify, the jury did hear excerpts from his interview with OSBI agents Josh Dean and David Seals, recorded at the Carter County Detention Center on May 8, 2013.
Prior to the recording, Seals testified Carlile had described the weapons he had at the time, two of which were Super Blackhawk .44 Mags, one of which belonged to his sister. On the day of the murder, Carlile told Seals he fed the chickens and drove a four-wheeler along the bottoms when he saw the Culwells by a fence on the property. Dean also testified that in a previous interview at Carlile’s residence on May 4, 2013, he had said he heard three to four shots while feeding his chickens, and thought it might be someone shooting at hogs.
In the recording of the OSBI interview, Carlile admitted to shooting both of the victims. He said his daughter’s gun was at his house on the day of the shooting, and his daughter picked up the gun after the shooting for her own protection. In describing the confrontation with Sonny Culwell, Carlile said he was tired of Culwell “b******* at him.”
“He jumped on my a** and started slugging me,” Carlile said. “So I pulled my damn gun and shot him. I don’t know why I shot her (Almenia Culwell). She was screaming at me and yelling, so I shot her.”
Carlile added that after he was hit, Sonny tried to choke him while he was on his four-wheeler, and shot [Sonny Culwell] three times. He also shot Almenia while sitting on the four-wheeler. The state medical examiner testified Culwell was shot twice. One shot struck the right arm, broke it and entered the chest and lacerated the liver. A second shot went through the lung and lacerated the heart. Almenia Culwell was struck with one shot, lacerating the liver. The medical examiner also testified no gunshot residue was found on the skin, indicating Sonny Culwell was shot from a distance greater than 18 inches. When describing the shot that killed Almenia Culwell, Carlile said, “you shoot all your life, you kind of learn to shoot a little bit.”
After the shootings, Carlile said he went to his house, drank a six-pack of beer, took some pain medication and knocked himself out.
He said that he was not aware of the Culwells being on the property where the bodies were later found, and the argument began over the condition of the fencing.
“I’m glad to get this s*** out of my system,” Carlile said. “I guess I will spend the rest of my life in jail, and I don’t give a s***.
“I’ve been putting up with his s*** for 40 years, he didn’t like me since I married his daughter. He just caught me at the wrong time, that is all there is to it,” Carlile said of Culwell.
Carlile also expressed regret for one of the killings. When asked if he would do it all over again, he said he would have shot Sonny, but he would not have shot Almenia.
“She was a real good woman,” he said, while breaking down.
Blackburn called Carlile’s wife, Janette Carlile, to the stand. She testified that prior to the shootings, she had moved to Wilson because of his drinking problem, and discussed the lingering animosity between her husband and her father.
“As far as I knew, they got along, but he never liked him,” she said of Sonny Culwell. “He said don’t marry Aaron, you need to marry his younger brother.”
In previous incidents, Janette testified it was her husband’s nature to walk away rather than argue with Sonny, who she described as having a temper if things were not done his way.
In talking about her youth, she said it was not uncommon to receive whippings from the middle of her back to the bends in her knee. After one such incident prior to her 15th birthday, she said she fought back, and when her grandfather came home, he told her to call the sheriff’s department if it happened again. She replied that Sonny Culwell would not wake up again if it happened again. In another incident after she was a mother, she broke a jar and held a piece of glass to Culwell when he brought back his fist to hit her.
In cross-examination, Ladd asked Janette Carlile about Sonny’s girlfriend, Sandra Welch. Carlile said Welch never cleaned or cooked, and it was a family opinion she was a gold digger. James Copeland, Aaron Carlile’s cousin, also testified to his character.
Ladd credited the OSBI for its investigation. “They did a good job in the investigation, and were very accommodating,” he said. “I have been impressed with Josh Dean and the other guys.”
Ladd also praised assistant district attorney Tim Burson for legwork in organizing evidence and handling of witnesses.
“Tim has stepped out on trial preparation,” he said.