Previous story: Walking through the Candler Road trailer, Craig Hannula was hit with the unmistakable, unbearable odor of rotting flesh.
After pulling aside a sheet, the Hall County Sheriff's Office deputy stepped into the bedroom and saw the body of 82-year-old Leroy Franklin Kramer Jr., who had been dead for an estimated two months.
His body had turned black like coal, falling between the bed and the nightstand.
Blood spatter was found on the walls and near the headboard but not on the bed.
At the time of Kramer’s death, Assistant District Attorney Harold Buckler said Kramer was getting undressed. The elderly man’s pants were down, and he had already kicked off one shoe.
“The evidence is going to be that she changed the blankets with Leroy’s corpse sitting right there by the bed,” Buckler said.
Hannula was one of the first witnesses in the murder trial of Tabitha Zeldia Wood, 46, of Gainesville, who the Sheriff's Office said killed her fiance Kramer and lived with the body for two months.
Wood was indicted Feb. 15 on charges of malice murder, felony murder, exploitation of an elder person, concealing the death of another, financial transaction card theft and aggravated assault against a person 65 years of age and older.
The indictment alleges Kramer was killed in early April, though his body was discovered when deputies went to Kramer’s residence June 7.
Defense attorney Rob McNeill and co-counsel Jake Shapiro filed notices with the court that Wood is asserting self-defense.
In their filings, the defense attorneys claimed the victim’s character for violence and specific acts of violence are admissible.
“Such evidence would also be for the purpose of motive to control females, which goes toward the defendant’s self-defense justification as the evidence corroborates Leroy Kramer’s motive to control and abuse women in domestic violence situations, which is exactly what he did to the defendant,” according to the defense’s notice.
Playing a section of the body camera footage, Buckler showed how Wood initially told the deputies that Kramer committed suicide.
The body camera showed the deputy stepping into the bedroom, where the bed is flanked by two nightstands but only one lamp.
A second matching lamp was later found broken. Law enforcement also found a 3-pound weight under Kramer’s body.
The prosecution played a video taken months before by Wood of Kramer, moaning and mumbling under a blanket, as Wood said, “This is one rude, hateful man but I am not going to let him keep blaming me and telling me it’s all in my head.”
Buckler said Wood has tried to manipulate people into believing that she was in an abusive relationship with Kramer.
In his opening statement, McNeill said if the jury listens to the evidence, they would be shocked, disappointed and mad because of a rush to judgment. He criticized Sheriff’s Office Investigator Richard Sinyard, saying there was “not one piece of competent evidence you’re going to see in this case.”
“She has been trying to tell her story for a year almost, and no one listened,” McNeill said. “You’re going to listen.”
McNeill said in his opening statement that Wood would testify in her defense. He claimed Kramer was “probably the most evil man to walk the streets of Hall County.”
The prosecution and the defense agree that Wood must testify and make a showing of her self-defense claim “prior to any reputation or opinion testimony being introduced,” according to Superior Court Judge Lindsay Burton’s order.
“There shall be no evidence or statements made about any acts of violence by the victim unless and until the court makes a finding outside the presence of the jury that the defendant has made a … showing of self defense,” Burton wrote.
The prosecution brought a pair of family members who lived in the homes surrounding Wood's and Kramer's residence off of Candler Road.
Both women said they had a good relationship with Kramer but did not see him for months before his death.
Dianne Payne, Kramer's stepdaughter, who made the wellness check that led to Kramer’s body being discovered, testified about text messages where she was attempting to find out from Wood where Kramer was.
Wood sent Payne a message saying he was up at an Ellijay residence.
Gilmer County Sheriff's Office Deputy Randy Beavers later told the court that there is no residence at the address Wood texted.
Through his cross-examination, McNeill referenced how Wood's family owned property at a nearby address.
Wood broke down crying as the court listened to the June 2022 version of herself on body camera describe how she was scared. She told the deputies that Kramer had pulled a gun on her four times.
Burton granted a brief break as the defense's team attempted to calm her.
Shapiro walked the deputies through Wood's comments on the body camera, which the defense has tried to show is proof that Wood was in an abusive relationship.
Burton said she has been extremely clear that any alleged acts by Kramer to other women would not be admissible until the defense presents its self-defense case.
Outside of the presence of the jury, Burton rebuked McNeill about violating court orders about lines of questioning deemed inadmissible after prior hearings.
Burton warned the defense attorney that she would hold him in contempt of court if he violated her rulings again.
The jury will return at 9 a.m. Wednesday for further evidence.