Verdict: Jury finds Roan Mountain woman not guilty of attempted second-degree murder

John Thompson • Dec 12, 2013 at 7:17 AM

ELIZABETHTON — A Carter County jury found Danita Whitehead not guilty of attempted second-degree murder and the lesser included charge of voluntary manslaughter on Wednesday. Judge Robert Cupp presided.

The jury's verdict came after a little more than an hour of deliberation following a two-day trial. Whitehead had been charged with stabbing her estranged husband, Edward Zane Church, in the left chest with a kitchen knife during an altercation on Sept. 28, 2011.

Both Whitehead and Church testified on the final day of the trial.

Church was the last witness called by Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks. Church said he had been married to his first wife for about 26 years without facing any charges of domestic violence.

Church said he married Whitehead after his first wife's death from cancer. He said the relationship became bad and he pleaded guilty of vandalism under domestic violence in a May 28, 2011 incident.

He was separated from Whitehead and preparing for a divorce on Sept. 28, 2011. He said he was standing in the kitchen of his friend Sam Bailey's home, eating a hamburger when Whitehead came in and surprised him. When he turned around, to face her, she stabbed him in the chest, he said.

He testified he tried to get the knife from her, but could not take it from her grip, so he grabbed the blade, breaking it off and cutting his fingers in the process.

He said his chest wound was spurting blood and he was getting weak. He went to a neighbor's house, Bobbie Ingram for help. He said she bandaged the wound.

After Church's testimony, the state rested and defense attorney Don Spurrell called his only witness, Whitehead.

Whitehead described a violent encounter in Bailey's home, which included Church placing his arm around her neck and choking her. She was able to get away by biting his right arm. She said he then got her on the floor and was on top of her with a kitchen knife.

She wrestled with him and said she did not even realized he had been cut in the chest by the knife because the wound was not deep. Spurrell later told the jury the wound did not even require a stitch at the emergency room, He said someone intending to stab another would have plunged the knife in to a depth of 6 inches or more.

Spurrell also discussed the severe bruising Church had on his upper body. While Church did not even mention the bruising in his account, Whitehead said she had been kicking him in attempt to get him off her.

In closing arguments, Brooks told the members of the jury that Whitehead wanted them to believe she was the victim, but Church had the only documented injuries. He said blood was spurting from his chest wound, yet Whitehead said she didn't even notice it.

He also said Whitehead had barricaded herself in her home after the incident and washed her bloody clothes to hide the evidence.

Spurrell said one key piece of evidence had not been tested. Whitehead told investigators she had never touched the kitchen knife that wounded Church. Spurrell said the knife had never been tested for fingerprints.

Following the jury's verdict, Spurrell told the press that even with a favorable verdict, the defendant always has to face a great deal of worry and expense. He said attorney Dick Pectol once told him "even when you win, you always leave something on the track."

Earlier report:

ELIZABETHTON — A Carter County jury today rejected prosecutors' attempt to send a Roan Mountain woman to prison for stabbing her estranged husband, finding her not guilty of attempted second-degree murder.

Danita Whitehead, 52, was accused of stabbing her husband, Edward Zane Church, 58, 1331 Rittertown Road, in September 2011 during a domestic disturbance. The stabbing took place at 354 Stout Hollow Road, Hampton, where deputies said he had been living. The couple had been separated for three months.

The jury also rejected a lesser included charge.

Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for more on this developing story.

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