Handwriting at VFW Post Analyzed by Expert

Today at the trial of A.J. Bowers for the murder of Jim Bolt in September of 2003, the prosecution asked Judge Don Hocker, before the jury came in, to make judicial notice of the time of sundown on the day of the murder. They noted this necessary due to the visibility of the man cutting grass noting he may have observed the defendant at the scene of the crime.

The state called Gail Heath to the stand, a forensic document examiner for SLED. She testified that she was able to examine the sign-in notebook where visitors to the VFW sign in. The sign-in sheet for the day of the murder had been ripped out. Ms. Heath said she had a high degree of certainty that she observed the defendant’s signature by examining the page that had been right under the missing sign-in sheet. Her opinion was classified as from an expert.

After the State rested its case, the defense again asked to have the case against A.J. Bowers dismissed. Judge Hocker again denied that request. When the Defense said there was only circumstantial evidence against Bowers, Judge Hocker said this is a case of circumstantial evidence, but there was enough circumstantial evidence to proceed. He said, “I am basing this on the blood on the notebook, the signature analysis, the testimony of the lady at the motel, and Brenda Roberts being convicted, and the defendant’s statement acknowledging him urinating outside the VFW, and knowing about the location of the body, plus the clock stopped and the cash register on the ground,” said Judge Hocker.

In other proceedings without the jury present, Bowers criminal record was discussed, noting he had convictions of selling drugs in 2006, 2010 and 2014.

Just before noon, the Prosecution objected to the Defense calling a school administrative employee from Florida to present school records of Bowers, to show his mental capacity. The State claimed Bowers’ school records were not relevant. Judge Hocker ruled to allow the records be presented, but the debate still went on regarding if the witness would give her opinions, when she is not an “expert” witness. The Defense said it would be codes on the school records that this witness would interpret.

Then an “in camera” testimony was recorded with the jury absent. Judge Hocker asked her if she could look at the transcripts and know the codes. She said yes.

She testified that, according to the defendants records, he was noted as being emotionally disturbed. The prosecution questioned the B and C grades showed on the records. They showed that in the 6th grade, Bowers’ grades dropped of. He was absent 26 days, then 51 days, and then, in grade 10, he missed class half the days of the half of the year, then not there at all the 2nd half.

After the jury returned from lunch break, Holly Manning, a supervisor for records and management in Pinellas County, Florida, took the stand and testified regarding the defendant’s school records. She said Bowers was in special education classes that were self-contained, and that he attended a school for students with specific disabilities.

In cross-examination, the prosecution cross-examined the witness, she was asked if she had met the defendant, She testified that when Bowers was mainstreamed he had good grades, and that when he was in a school with constrictions like a ten-foot chain link fence, he had a large amount of absences and failing grades. She also said his records don’t reveal where he was during his absences from school. Prosecution also asked the Defense witness to answer, not in the realm of her position with the school system, but as common sense, “Does poor attendance cause bad grades?” She agreed.

The next witness for the defense was Reserve Officer Nelson with Fountain Inn Police, previously employed by the Laurens City Police Department. He testified that he was asked to examine a voluntary statement of the defendant, which was four pages long. He said he had been in and out while the statement was being made. He indicated the date of signature was the day before the interview. On cross-examination this was declared a typo. Nelson said his only purpose was to notarize the signature of the defendant.

The prosecution said that they had not planned on entering the content of letters and books read by Bowers while held in the detention center. The state said that since the defense had brought in the school person from Florida, they now plan to enter these into evidence. Walter Bentley was recalled and explained his job with the Solicitor’s Office enables him to monitor the phone calls of inmates. He testified about listening to see if there was any evidentiary material, and calls were played for the jury.

One recording consisted of the defendant telling the recipient he was reading a book on faith. Another call consisted of the defendant telling the recipient that he wanted to get his GED and get into culinary school. In a  3rd  call Bowers received, he said he was going to write that caller a letter.

Final arguments in the case against A.J. Bowers are expected tomorrow in Laurens County General Sessions Court.