RALEIGH, WAKE COUNTY - A Wake County jury has convicted Raleigh musician Grant Hayes of killing Kinston mom Laura Ackerson and dismembering her body.
The jury of eight women and four men found Hayes (above left) guilty of first-degree murder just an hour-and-a-half after deliberations began Monday morning. Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens then sentenced the 33-year-old to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Attorneys for Hayes said they would appeal.
Hayes, along with his wife, 41-year-old Amanda Perry Hayes, were both charged with first-degree murder in the death of Ackerson (above right). The 27-year-old was reported missing from her Kinston home on July 15, 2011. Her dismembered body was found nine days later in Oyster Creek in Richmond, Texas.
Investigators said they believe Grant and Amanda Hayes killed Ackerson at their Raleigh apartment, dismembered her, and packed her body parts in coolers. The couple then loaded the coolers into a U-Haul trailer, and brought their kids along as they drove to Texas to dump the remains, police said.
The creek where Ackerson's dismembered body was found is near the home of Amanda Hayes' sister, according to investigators.
"She really was making a new start on life," Jason McKnight, pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Kinston, said. Laura Ackerson join McKnight's church the year before she was killed.
"I hope that this will bring some closure, especially for the little ones," McKnight said of the verdict.
During closing arguments Friday, prosecutors said Grant Hayes lured Ackerson to her death by exploiting the love she had for their children. Hayes and Ackerson had two sons together. But Ackerson lost custody of the children in 2010 and was fighting to get them back when she was killed.
But defense attorneys argued that Hayes should not be convicted of murder because it was actually his wife who killed Ackerson. Hayes only helped cover up the death, the defense said.
According to Defense Attorney William Durham, Amanda Hayes was angry because Grant had agreed to pay Ackerson $25,000 to give up custody of the children. Durham said Amanda then killed Ackerson while Grant was away.
Hayes had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder prior to Monday's conviction.
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger called Ackerson's murder "calculated" and "malignant." He said Raleigh Police found bleach spots on the floor of the Hayes' Raleigh apartment. In addition, one of the bathrooms was missing a shower curtain and bath mats, Zellinger said.
Amanda Hayes' trial is expected to start on Jan. 20, 2014.
Ackerson's father filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the suspects in July, seeking $10,000 to cover damages, interest, and other costs.