The prosecution and defense outlined their cases to the jury in the trial against Berry Hall on Monday.
It is the second time Hall has been on trial for the murders of his niece Lisa Tackett, 30, and her husband Alan Tackett, 46, at their home on Meade Branch in Abbott in 2008. Hall is charged with two counts of murder and four counts of first-degree wanton endangerment related to four of the Tackett’s children who were in the home at the time of the shooting.
Hall was convicted in 2012 of murdering the couple, with the jury finding him guilty but mentally ill on two counts of murder and four counts of first-degree wanton endangerment.
He was sentenced to two life sentences without parole for each murder and five years, to run concurrently, on each wanton endangerment charge.
Hall appealed that sentence on several grounds, including an argument that “extremely gruesome” crime scene and autopsy photos were improperly admitted during trial.
In 2015, the Supreme Court agreed, describing those photographs as “excessive highly prejudicial.”
In its order reversing the conviction and remanding the case back to Floyd Circuit Court, the Supreme Court reported that the facts surrounding the shootings were “largely undisputed,” and the “primary issue” at trial was Hall’s insanity defense and a claim of “extreme emotional disturbance.”
At the first trial, Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brent Turner introduced a video of the crime scene and 43 crime scene and autopsy photos, 28 of which were “admitted over objection,” the Supreme Court said. The photos are specifically detailed in the ruling, which reports that some of them were close-ups of other photos already entered into evidence, and that they showed “grotesque details” of the crime scene and the victim’s injuries that were “more vivid” than others.
On Monday, jurors reviewed 10 photographs — pictures of Alan and Lisa Tackett and their four children, who were all under the age of five when the shooting took place. The couple was also raising two other children in the home at the time, Turner said.
In his opening argument, Turner described Alan and Lisa Tackett as “simple people.”
“I think you’ll hear or gather from the testimony that Alan and Lisa were, they were just simple people,” Turner said. “And they didn’t have much and struggled to get what little they did have, but they had each other, had their family. On March 20, 2008, this defendant took all of that away when he made the decision to kill Alan Tackett and Lisa Tackett and make orphans of the children.”
Turner explained that the Tackett family and the Hall family got along well with each other after the Halls moved in next door, but the relationship deteriorated over time, and he said they started having “squabbles and disagreements” over things.
Turner explained that the relationship between the families had dissolved into “tremendous animosity” by the time of the shooting.
“It kind of progressed over time to the point where, at one time or another, I think both sides called the law on each other. There were maybe restraining orders, those sorts of things, and it just got worse and worse until the point that, by the time this all happened, there was just tremendous animosity between the defendant’s family and the family of Alan and Lisa Tackett,” Turner said.
Turner described Hall shooting Lisa and Alan Tackett step-by-step, using his arms and hands to show how Hall lifted the gun and pulled the trigger.
He told the jury that Hall knew that he was doing because he went upstairs, got his deer rifle, loaded it with three rounds, climbed onto the bed, used the scope on the gun to find them and shoot them.
He said Tackett was “unarmed, totally defenseless and presumably unaware” that Hall was going to shoot her from a second-story window of the home.
He reported she was shot in the chest and Hall fired two rounds at Alan Tackett when he came to the door to check on his wife. One of those rounds hit Alan Tackett in the left hand, and when he “recoiled” in pain, Turner said Hall shot him again in the head, killing him.
Turner alluded to Hall’s state of mind during the shooting, emphasizing to the jury that it’s the defense’s job to show whether he had mental illness.
Turner told the jury, however, that Hall had the “presence of mind,” to pick up the shell casings after the shooting and put them in his pocket, to tell his son not to touch the gun so his fingerprints wouldn’t be on it, and, during an interview with police, ask whether the interview would help him or hurt him in court. He said after the shooting, Hall put his shoes on, walked downstairs and went next door.
He said Hall gave police “little explanation” for the shooting, beyond the statement that he was “angry and couldn’t take the yelling and screaming.”
“Earlier we talked about people being held accountable for their actions ... and after hearing the evidence in this case, that’s exactly what we’re going to ask you to do,” Turner said. “We’re going to ask you to find this defendant guilty and hold him accountable of murdering Alan and Lisa Tackett and wanton endangering those four kids. That’s the bottom line. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”
In his opening argument, Public Advocate Garland Arnett did not deny that Hall killed Alan and Lisa Tackett. He explained that Turner told jury how the murders happened and his team would show them why it happened.
He shared information about Hall’s upbringing, saying he has 11 siblings who grew up “in a very poor home” where they were just worried about “staying fed and alive.”
“Most of his siblings, probably around 10, at least, have had diagnosed problems with mental illness,” Arnett said. “For 45 years before this shooting happened, Berry Hall was a man trying to make a living, trying to make a life for himself and make a life for his family. He was by no means perfect. He never was. He had many moments of regret, but he was doing what he could.”
He said Hall had an eighth grade education, worked in the coal mines, operated heavy equipment and did other types of heavy labor.
“He worked through injuries and all the other problems that come when you work hard, hard labor for years on end,” Arnett said.
He explained that as Hall’s “aches and pains from working” and the “build up of other stress” increased, he lost interest in hunting and fishing, as he used to do with his children, and started having problems with his nerves at age 39.
He said Hall’s family doctor put him on two medications for his nerves and he took that medication as prescribed for five or six years prior to the shooting. He said the medication wasn’t working well, so his doctor prescribed Prozac, which he started taking in November 2007, a few months prior to the shooting in March 2008.
In the first trial, Hall testified on his own behalf, telling the court that his family doctor misdiagnosed him and gave him medicine that made him paranoid and delusional.
On Monday, Arnett refuted comments Turner made about Hall’s state of mind.
“Berry did pick up those shells. Berry did not want his son to touch that gun. But Berry also told police that he would have done CPR on Lisa,” Arnett said. “When the police arrived, he told them what happened. And there were other indicators to what was going on with Berry. He wept when he was talking tot he police. He was banging his head against the car. Lt. Welch actually had to calm him down just to protect him, just to protect Berry from himself.”
He described Hall as a “broken man.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think that once you hear all of the evidence here today ... I think you’ll find that Berry just simply wasn’t able to control himself at all on March 20, 2008. He knew and he knows the difference between right and wrong. Berry didn’t want anybody else to get in trouble for what happened. But Berry Hall had absolutely no control over what happened. Not one. I hope when this case is done that you find Berry not guilty.”
Two people testified on Monday, Norita Collins, the sister of Alan Tackett, who reported they were raised on the Long Fork of Virgie and Robinson Creek in Pike County and that Tackett was almost 47 years old when he was killed. She said Alan and Lisa Tackett had been married four years at the time of the murders.
Charlotte Meade, the former wife of Hall, testified that she and Hall had been married for 27 years and had three children, all of whom lived in the home at the time of the murder.
Meade got emotional when she described what happened on the day of the shooting, reporting that Hall “sat there and didn’t say nothing” when an argument started between the two families.
She said he did not appear angry or upset when he went upstairs and had told her that he was going to go to sleep.
She reported calling former Sheriff John K. Blackburn, who lived nearby, prior to the shooting and he advised her to go file charges against the couple the next day. She said the only thing Hall said prior to going upstairs was ask a question about what Blackburn said when she called.
She said she heard two gunshots and she went upstairs to tell Hall about them and found him standing on the bed, “hanging out the bedroom window” with a gun in his hand.
“She said she went outside and saw Lisa Tackett laying in the yard and her children were “on top of her” and “trying to wake her up.”
She said when she went over to the police car, Hall asked her for a pack of cigarettes and he told her “happy birthday.”
Meade testified that Hall was taking medication for nerve problems, and she said that she had no indication that he was “going insane” or “becoming homicidal.” She also testified that she only knew of one of Hall’s siblings having mental illnesses.
She said she continued visiting him in jail and supported him and that she stopped supporting him when he “cussed me out.”
She told Turner she divorced Hall four or five years after the shooting, and she confirmed with Public Advocate Emma Jones that she divorced him in Aug. 2009, about a year after the shooting took place.
Answering questions from Jones, she also confirmed the family had taken out a restraining order against Alan Tackett due to threats that had been made and that Hall had a “blank” look on his face immediately after the shooting.
The original trial lasted four weeks. Testimony is expected to continue throughout this week.