Witnesses take the stand: Court reconvenes for third day of Ardmore first degree murder trial

Sierra Rains

While the Carter County courthouse ceased general operations on Wednesday due to winter weather, the trials in progress went on.

Wednesday, Feb. 5 marked the third day of a first degree murder trial stemming from a 2014 Ardmore cold case homicide.

The defendant, 28-year-old Stephen Vineyard of Ada, is being represented by Oklahoma City attorney Richard Anderson. District Attorney Craig Ladd and Assistant District Attorney Aaron Taber are representing the state of Oklahoma.

Vineyard is charged with first degree murder for the shooting death of 59-year-old Ella Loftis at around 3 a.m. on June 30, 2014.

After having three witnesses testify on Tuesday, Feb. 4, the state called five additional witnesses to the stand Wednesday — one of which played a key part in the Ardmore Police Department‘s investigation after it was reassigned in 2018.

On Tuesday, former APD investigator Matt Miller testified that he and his partner, Landon Gary, had decided to release some information regarding the cold case to the press in the hope that someone would come forward with more information.

In a response to their request, an individual came forward and told the investigators that Vineyard had allegedly confessed to her shortly after the incident in 2014. On Wednesday, she told the jury more about Vineyard’s alleged confession during her testimony.

The witness said she had been friends with Vineyard for around two years before the 2014 incident, pointing to him and identifying him in court. Not too long after the incident, the witness said she and a friend who was romantically interested in Vineyard were all hanging out together.

The three individuals ended up getting a hotel together at the end of the night and at some point the witness said she and Vineyard were watching television. The witness said she stopped the channel on a local news station, which was displaying a picture of Ella Loftis during a story about her death.

Vineyard allegedly had an “immediate reaction” to the image and became frantic, started sweating and his hands started shaking, she said. The witness said Vineyard told her he had to get something off his chest at this point.

According to the witness’s testimony, Vineyard told her that he had been driving around with three alleged gang members and one of them had gotten into a fight with Loftis’s grandson over the phone, adding that the group then pulled up at Loftis’s residence thinking that her grandson was there.

Vineyard allegedly told the witness that the group dropped him off around the block and he went in through the side gate of the residence and started shooting. When Vineyard got to the porch, he realized he had hit Loftis and she looked at him and said “Why are you doing this?,” according to the witness’s testimony.

The witness said she still remembers the “exact words” that Vineyard told her after that: “She had already seen my face, I had to kill her.”

The witness said Vineyard had never mentioned being forced into shooting at the residence or Loftis nor had he mentioned having a gun to the back of his head, as was suggested during a video interview with Vineyard played in court on Tuesday.

Vineyard also denied having known that he shot Loftis during the video interview.

The cross examination revealed some minor discrepancies in the witness’s recollection of the night. However, she stated that it was hard for her to fully remember specific details from six years ago beyond the confession.

The witness also stated in her testimony that she waited to come forward because she wasn’t sure if Vineyard was telling the truth.

The witness’s friend, who had been with her and Vineyard that night, also testified on Wednesday, confirming that she had been with them at the hotel, but had passed out from drinking. When she woke up the next day, she said her friend warned her to stay away from Vineyard because he had killed a lady.

In 2014, Vineyard had been dating another witness who was called to the stand on Wednesday. Vineyard’s ex-girlfriend said that he woke her up late at night and told her he had to go right away because one of his friends had been shot.

According to his ex-girlfriend’s testimony, Vineyard was gone for two days after that and when he came back his demeanor was “dead” and withdrawn, lacking any emotion. The witness said she questioned where he had been because she believed he was seeing another woman.

While on his phone, Vineyard allegedly pulled up a news article on Ella Loftis’s slaying and showed it to his ex-girlfriend, stating “This is where I’ve been.” The witness said she didn’t believe him at first, calling him a “wanna-be gangster” and said she thought it was an excuse because he’d been with someone else.

However, she allegedly heard Vineyard bragging about the incident, saying he and the group had circled the block after the shooting and laughed about the victim’s body as it was slumped over. After this, the witness said she believed it was true.

Two other witnesses testified concerning the investigation of the crime scene and nature of Loftis’s wounds and death. Ardmore Police Department crime scene investigator Sherri Wallace’s testimony revealed that at least three shots were fired from a shotgun during the 2014 incident.

Eric Duvall, a medical examiner from Oklahoma City, also revealed that Loftis had around 28 gunshot wounds located throughout her body, on her chest, right shoulder, right arm, right thigh, right wrist, back and head. Photos of the wounds were presented to the jury. The wounds caused damage to several of her internal organs, including her heart and brain, he said.

On Thursday, Feb. 6, the defense will begin calling witnesses to the stand. If found guilty, Vineyard could face life imprisonment with or without parole.