During Monday’s opening statement, Stanziano told jurors that Walls poisoned himself. He researched the effects of antifreeze using Miller’s computer and learned how much he could ingest without killing himself and then drank enough to get seriously sick, Stanziano said.
Later that day, under questioning from prosecutor Brian Wright, Walls repeatedly said he has never used a computer in his life.
When Stanziano got his turn to question Walls on Tuesday, he asked about his education and literacy.
Walls said he obtained a GED, but never read or wrote much during his four years in the Navy. He said he had read and write a bit more while working 23 years for the state Division of Forestry, but never became very accomplished at either.
“I can understand enough to pay my bills,” Walls said.
Stanziano followed, “While you are a simple country man, you are not stupid, are you?”
Walls: “I don’t consider myself stupid.”
Stanziano delved into Walls’ family life. He admitted that he was estranged from all of his sisters, his daughters and grandchildren, except Miller, who was always his favorite.
The attorney asked Walls how his only son, Johnny, died in 1998 at the age of 29. Walls said he wasn’t sure because the autopsy said it was a drug overdose but also indicated that it was not.
“Has his death haunted you?” Stanziano asked.
“Yes, it bothers me,” Walls replied, adding that he doesn’t blame himself for his son’s death.
Stanziano probed into the 1997 death of a woman whom Walls dated as a young man and then had an affair with after she had married. Her husband killed her and then himself “in a fit of jealous rage,” Stanziano said, and then asked Walls, “Do you feel you have any blame in her death?”
“No. I’m sorry it happened but I couldn’t do nothing about it,” Walls replied.
Stanziano asked Walls if he had a drinking problem.
“I have not had a drink since November ‘05,” he responded.
“Is it fair to say you were an alcoholic?”
“I didn’t consider myself an alcoholic. I liked to drink beer but I went to work every day. I didn’t call it a problem, everyone else did.”
Amid the questions about Walls’ troubled past, Stanziano often switched directions and asked Walls about the days leading up to his poisoning on Feb. 12, 2008, and the days following while he was still at Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Lexington.
Stanziano asked Walls if he remembered initially telling investigators at the hospital that he didn’t suspect Miller of poisoning him, but that it might have been a neighbor, Roland Cannon, who helped him sometimes and had a key to his house.
Walls said he did not recall saying those things, but added that he was still half crazed from the antifreeze.
“I just remember parts of it,” Walls said. “It was a long time ago and I wasn’t right at the time.”
Stanziano asked Walls if he recalled telling an officer at the hospital that he had bought a gallon of antifreeze a week before he was poisoned and put it in a closet in Miller’s bedroom. Walls said the last time he bought any antifreeze was in the 1990s.
Harold Cochran, an officer at the hospital and also a part-time Liberty policeman, testified later that he interviewed Walls several times while he was recovering at the hospital.
Walls did say that he suspected Cannon but not Miller, and that he did purchase antifreeze recently and put it in Miller’s room, Cochran said, but added that those statements were made in early interviews before Walls had regained his right mind.
“He was disoriented, talking a lot of stuff that didn’t make sense,” Cochran testified.
As Walls regained his senses, he gave Cochran permission to search his house, where a mostly full jug of antifreeze was found inside a stairwell in Miller’s room, the officer testified.
Sheriff Jerry Coffman testified that he found another jug of antifreeze in a storage room at the house when police executed a search warrant a a week after Walls was poisoned. That jug was dusty and a sticker on it indicated it was purchased at Bill’s Dollar Store, a long-defunct Liberty business.
Stanziano suggested that Walls only began to blame his granddaughter for the poisoning after two of his sisters suggested at the hospital that Miller did it so she could inherit his estate. Walls denied that.
On re-direct examination, Wright acknowledged that Walls had endured “some intrusive questioning” from Stanziano and then asked him one more: how much did Miller stand to inherit if he died and left his entire estate to her. Walls estimated his net worth to be between $125,000 and $150,000.
“She was going to be in pretty good shape,” he said.
After Walls left the stand, the testimony became more mundane and technical.
Neighbor Dallas Russell, who regularly brought Walls videotapes of church services, said he was called to take Walls to the hospital. When he arrived, Walls was so messed up from the antifreeze that he needed help putting his pants on and getting into the car.
Stanziano asked Russell if Miller, who helped get Walls ready to go and rode with to the hospital, acted suspicious in any way. Russell said that she did not.
Dr. Creed Pettigrew, a neurologist who treated Walls at the V.A. hospital, testified that Walls probably would have died had he not received medical treatment when he did.
Walls had ingested enough ethylene glycol, the active ingredient in antifreeze, that it began to crystallize in his kidneys and brain. He had to be hooked up to a ventilator to keep his body functioning, Pettigrew said.
Two to three ounces of antifreeze is enough to be lethal, the doctor testified. He said it is possible, though not provable, that Walls took in smaller amounts in the two or three days before Feb. 12 and it accumulated in his system until another dose that morning made it toxic.
Kenneth Rider, a supervisor at the Kentucky State Police trace analysis lab in Frankfort, testified he tested some brown liquid and three cups taken from Walls’ home by police a week after he was poisoned.
None of the items showed any trace of antifreeze, Rider said, but the substance would have had ample time evaporate before he had a chance to analyze it.
James Sullivan, founder of Kentucky Trust Co. in Danville, said he meet with Miller in November 2007. Miller told him that she stood to inherent $300,000 to $400,000 from her grandfather, who only had a few months to live, and wanted advice on how to protect that inheritance from other family members, Sullivan testified.
There was “no doubt” that Miller set up the meeting to make preparations for her grandfather to die within the next few months, Sullivan said, and her main concern was that her mother and an aunt would “get the money away from her.”