DAY TWO RECAP: Day 2 of the trial against Billy Hawk continued Thursday with most of the testimony coming from forensic experts and friends and family of the victim and suspect.
Vicki Salyer was Johnny Mack's wife at the time of his murder and the two had a daughter together.
She said the last time she talked to him was May 21, 1981, about a week-and-a-half before the barrel containing his body washed up to a couple's dock on Chickamauga Lake.
Investigators believe Salyer was murdered in late May 1981 but the cause of death was never determined. In fact, the medical examiner at the time, the late Dr. Jack Adams, never conducted an autopsy on Salyer.
A detective in 1981 told Vicki Sayler he possibly died from drowning or an overdose, according to court documents.
But in late 2015, under a court order, Salyer's body was exhumed and transported to Knoxville for analysis and Chattanooga for an autopsy.
When remains were x-rayed, doctors discovered metal objects in the chest area. A TBI crime lab analyst testified to finding a .22 caliber bullet. The current Hamilton County Medical Examiner Dr. James Metcalf would later revise the 1981 findings and rule the cause of death as a gunshot wound to the chest.
Vicki Salyer said her husband was with the wrong crowd and was trying to get out of the drug game.
Salyer was friends with Billy Hawk, the man standing trial for the cold case murder. The two men were arrested a couple before the murder during a drug deal with undercover TBI agents. Prosecutors said that gave Hawk motive to kill Salyer.
Hawk's brother, Bob, testified against him Thursday, saying he saw Billy getting off a boat days before the murder made news.
Bob Hawk described that run-in and a phone call he would later get from Billy as "odd."
"He told me that he knew the media had been asking and that I better keep my mouth shut," Bob Hawk said.
The state's final witness Thursday was an ex-girlfriend of Billy Hawk named Wynna Williams.
Williams testified that Hawk broke into her apartment one night, put a gun to her head and confessed to the murder. She said Hawk told her that he and a friend tricked Salyer, took him to the woods and shot him. Defense attorneys focused on inconsistencies in her testimony Thursday and statements she once made to investigators.
The prosecution will continue its case Friday morning in a trial that could last into early next week.
The sequestered jury will return to its hotel Thursday evening.
Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.
DAY TWO - THURSDAY: Much of Thursday's testimony was focused on forensics -- including a mystery bullet discovered 35 years later inside the body of Johnny Mack Salyer.
After Salyer was murdered in 1981, a full autopsy was never done. In fact, his cause of death was listed as "undetermined" by the medical examiner at the time. It's unknown why the doctor never performed an autopsy.
But fast forward almost 35 years to late last year. After Billy Hawk was arrested and charged with murder... Salyer's body was exhumed and new x Rays were taken of his remains. That's when doctors noticed remnants of metal that turned out to be pieces of a bullet.
Metcalf testifies that in 2015 he noticed a gunshot wound in Salyer's upper chest and determined that was the cause of death.— Dan Kennedy (@DanOKennedy) June 2, 2016
And 35 years later... The current medical examiner determined Salyer was shot.
DAY ONE - WEDNESDAY: Day one in the trial of Billy Hawk is complete and will resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday as the prosecution continues to present its case.
The majority of Wednesday's testimony came from Hawk's ex-wife Debra Braswell.
She testified to noticing a barrel on Hawk's boat one day when they were on Lake Chickamauga. She said Hawk told her it was junk and that he was going to throw it away.
Braswell testified to hearing on the news days later of Salyer's remains being found inside a barrel on the lake. She said she was stunned and terrified and confronted Hawk who denied having any part in the murder.
Police questioned her the following year on February 10, 1982, four days before she married Hawk. But she said she didn't give them the full story because she was "scared." The two divorced after several years and have remarried.
Defense attorney Bill Speek questioned her timeline. She admitted to not knowing the exact date of their trip to the lake but said "I do know the sequence of events."
Debra Braswell's testimony is over. Court is in recess and will resume with more of the prosecution's case tomorrow morning. #HawkTrial— Dan Kennedy (@DanOKennedy) June 1, 2016
Jurors also heard testimony from Harry Stone, the responding EMT, and David Hamby, the responding sheriff's deputy in 1981.
During this time, the prosecution showed several pictures of the barrel and Salyer's body after it had been removed.
Stone testified it appeared Salyer had been shot in the chest. He then transported the body to the morgue at Erlanger for a medical examination. On cross-examination, Stone told defense attorneys he did not document the wound and did not have any conversations with the medical examiner, who ultimately ruled the death as undetermined.
Just weeks before the murder, Salyer, Hawk and Braswell were arrested by undercover TBI agents during a cocaine deal at Concord Baptist Church on East Brainerd Road.
Lance Saylor, the former TBI agent involved in the sting, also testified for several hours Wednesday.
Day one of the trial wrapped up around 5:45 p.m. Wednesday and the jury was sequestered back to its hotel for a second night. The prosecution's case continues Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m.
Stay with WRCBtv.com for continuing coverage of this story.
WEDNESDAY - TRIAL BEGINS: Opening statements began Wednesday morning in the cold case murder trial of Billy Hawk.
"This trial needs to be about proof, testimony and evidence," Assistant District Attorney Lance Pope told jurors.
Hawk's ex-wife testifies Billy said one morning "we're going to the lake today .. to pick something up."— Dan Kennedy (@DanOKennedy) June 1, 2016
Pope told jurors the story of a barrel containing Johnny Mack Salyer's body washing up to a boat dock on Rocky Point Road on June 3, 1981.
Prosecutors say Billy Hawk had motive to murder Salyer. TBI agents arrested the pair in an undercover drug bust just weeks before on May 8, 1981.
Hawk's ex wife testifying after the arrest they moved to Ringgold. Salyer moved in with them so Hawk could "keep his eye on him"— Dan Kennedy (@DanOKennedy) June 1, 2016
"The people who will take the stand today all swam in the sewer, they were all involved, including some cops," said Defense Attorney Bill Speek.
Speek asked the jury to imagine having to remember a conversation with specificity from 1981.
"That's what this case will be about," Speek said. "A memory from 1981 is a very dangerous thing to convict someone of, but recordings are preserved."
The state's first witness was former TBI Agent Lance Saylor, who was undercover in 1981 when he helped arrest Salyer and Hawk.
Audio from 1981 phone call now playing between Salyer and Johnny Varallo (TBI informant) re: ~$4K drug deal pic.twitter.com/Oe6n6QsDMl— Dan Kennedy (@DanOKennedy) June 1, 2016
The defense played an audio recording of the transaction of two ounces of cocaine between Salyer and the two undercover TBI agents in the parking lot of Concord Baptist Church on East Brainerd Road.
TBI undercover agents arrested Salyer and Hawk in May 1981 drug deal on E. Brainerd Rd. Salyer was murdered weeks later #HawkTrial— Dan Kennedy (@DanOKennedy) June 1, 2016
Saylor said they arrested Salyer and Hawk on the spot. After the arrest, they got a search warrant for Hawk's grandparents house where he said they discovered more drugs.
Saylor was on the stand for almost three hours. There are still more than a dozen witnesses that will be called to testify during the trial.
The jury has been sequestered and is not allowed access to cell phones and local news, among other things, during their stay at a local hotel.
Judge Don Poole told the jury to plan to pack in preparation for what could be a week-long trial.
Hawk could face life in prison if convicted.
ADA Pope: Hawk & victim dealt coke together. "It benefitted Hawk for Johnny Mac to be dead."— Dan Kennedy (@DanOKennedy) June 1, 2016
Hawk is accused of killing Johnny Mack Salyer in 1981. Salyers body was found inside a barrel in the Tennessee River.
Prosecution begins opening statements. On 6/3/81, local couple discovered barrel w/ discomposed body floating in TN River. #HawkTrial— Dan Kennedy (@DanOKennedy) June 1, 2016
TUESDAY - JURY SELECTION: The jury has been selected in a 35-year-old cold case murder in Hamilton County.
Billy Hawk was charged last year in the 1981 murder of Johnny Mack Salyer, whose body was found in a barrel in the Tennessee River. Hawk could serve life in prison if convicted.
A total of 72 prospective jurors were in Judge Don Poole's courtroom Tuesday for jury selection. Prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned dozens of them in a process known as Voir Dire, before narrowing their lists to 12 jurors and 2 alternates.
The jury will be sequestered in a hotel for the duration of the trial which could last up to 10 days. Judge Don Poole sent the jury home Tuesday afternoon to pack for their stay and instructed them to return later Tuesday for additional instructions.
"We thought is a very fair jury and we're eager to get into the case and defend Mr. Hawk," said Bill Speek, one of Hawk's attorneys. "It's a 35 year old murder case, there's going to be missing evidence and inconsistencies on testimony. We need the jury to hear everything."
The case had gone cold for more than 30 years until District Attorney General Neal Pinkston's Cold Case Unit announced Hawk's indictment last year.
Key pieces of potentially exonerating evidence have been thrown out over the years, including the barrel and original autopsy x-rays. Hawk and Salyer were charged together in an undercover drug bust less than a month before the murder.
Pinkston and Assistant D.A. Lance Pope are prosecuting the case. Attorneys Jim Logan, Bill Speek and Jonathan Turner are representing Hawk.
This is the first arrest as result of the Cold Case Unit that has gone to trial in Hamilton County. The unit was formed in 2014 and is examining nearly 200 unsolved homicides in Hamilton County. The unit has officially cleared five cases. In one instance, the defendant is dead, two others have been transferred to other jurisdictions and two more (including Hawk) are pending.
State government will be closed Wednesday in the impacted areas for non-essential personnel.More
State government will be closed Wednesday in the impacted areas for non-essential personnel.More