UPDATE: Billy Hawk trial set to start May 31 - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Billy Hawk trial set to start May 31

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: A murder case that went cold for more than three decades has resurfaced and the man accused is set for trial next week.

Billy hawk is charged in the 1981 murder of Johnny Salyer, whose body was found in a barrel in the Tennessee River. 

READ MORE | UPDATE: Bill Hawk indicted in Greene County ?

After months of pre-trial hearings and testimony, Judge Don Poole asked the state and defense if they had any final motions, witnesses or evidence that needed to be presented.

Bill Speek, Hawk’s defense attorney asked the judge to throw out a statement from his former wife.

“In an argument she had four years after the alleged incident/crime took place she said that Mr. Hawk said I’ll stuff you in a barrel,” Speek said.

According to the defense, statement took place during an argument in the context involving a dog - not anything involving this case which they believe could potentially influence the jury.

“The states own theory that Mr. Hawk and his ex-wife were aware that one of their friends or someone they knew was put in a barrel, we felt the prejudicial value was so extreme that a jury would actually say he said that four years later 'oh therefore he must have put this guy in a barrel,' Speek said.

The state says the jury should be allowed to hear the statement. But it will be up to the judge to decide before testimony begins. Hawk has maintained his innocence since his September arrest. 

His trial is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.


PREVIOUS STORY:  Former Chattanooga police officer, Terry Slaughter testified against Billy Hawk, a man he once called his friend.

"Billy was always, I always thought Billy was involved in it," said Terry Slaughter 

Unrelated to this case, Slaughter served several years in prison for lying during a separate homicide investigation in the eighties. He and Hawk exchanged some words as Slaughter left the courtroom.

"I am not a punk. You need to keep walking," Slaughter said to Hawk.

Hawk was indicted last year for the 1981 murder of Johnny Mack Salyer , who was found stuffed in a barrel and floating down the Tennessee River. The medical examiner 35 years ago couldn't determine how Salyer died. So he was buried, the barrel was destroyed, and case went cold. Hawk's attorneys say police should have kept the barrel.

"It had a very very foul odor to it from having a body in it from some time. It was ultimately crushed and gotten rid of," said Mike Mathis, one of Hawk's attorneys. 

Hawk's attorneys argued the case should be dismissed because exculpatory evidence was lost or destroyed.

"It's gonna focus on a barrel and missing x-ray or x-rays," said Bill Speek, Hawk's attorney.

Just last year, Salyer's body was exhumed for a new autopsy. The new medical examiner found a bullet and determined Salyer was shot in the chest.
What's still a mystery, Is why the bullet was never discovered during the 1981 autopsy and what's happened to the original x-ray of Salyer's chest -- that's since gone missing.

The case has been pushed to May 9th, when the judge will issue his opinion on whether of not the case should be dismissed.


PREVIOUS STORY: Billy Hawk is facing life in prison. But his attorneys say there's not enough evidence to prove he killed anyone.

The 61-year-old suspect was arrested in September. He's accused of killing Johnny "Mack" Salyer nearly 35 years ago.

Salyer's body was found stuffed inside a barrel that was floating down the Tennessee River during the summer of 1981.

"We're not told how (the murder) was committed, whether (Hawk) participated, and at what level he participated," said Hawk's attorney, Bill Speek. "Simply that someone died, and he's at fault."

In 1981, after Salyer's body was found in a barrel, floating down the Tennessee River, officials couldn't determine how he died. But after his remains were exhumed last year, the Medical Examiner found a bullet and concluded Salyer died of a gunshot wound.

Hawk's attorneys aren't convinced.
 
"Our courts have developed laws that say that experts can't come in and speculate about something," said James Logan, who is also defending Hawk.

"This is a case where, literally, somebody wasn't shot when they died, and was shot, apparently, at some point, 35 years later. We want to know why," Speek said.

Through the years, key pieces of potentially exonerating evidence, like the barrel and original autopsy x-rays, were thrown out.

But investigators say Hawk had a motive.

"He stated, with a smile on his face, that he'd never do a day in jail," recalled former TBI Agent Lance Saylor.

Less than a month before the murder, Salyer and Hawk were charged together in an undercover drug bust.

"Mr. Salyer was not the source of the cocaine. He was a go-between. He mentioned an individual by the name of Billy," Saylor testified.

According to Saylor, Salyer told police he would testify against Hawk in court. But that never happened, and Hawk's case was eventually dismissed.

"The case never transpired, partially because the victim ended up in the Chickamauga Lake," said District Attorney General Neal Pinkston.

Hawk will be back in court for another pre-trial hearing next month. His trial was originally scheduled to begin in April, but it was rescheduled for May 31.

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