Editor’s note: The following report includes direct quotes from testimony made during a murder trial, with language that may be offensive to some people.
HAZARD – Sarah Melton took the stand Wednesday in her own defense against accusations of trying to kill her brother and murdering his girlfriend.
Melton, 43, of Brownsfork, is on trial this week on charges of murder and attempted murder after she shot and killed Cindy Caudill, and seriously injured Bill Couch on June 28, 2011. She testified this week, however, that shooting two people wasn’t her intent.
Defense attorney Gerald Teaster spent time during the trial on Wednesday asking questions that would paint Melton as a victim, and her brother as a man with violent tendancies dating back three decades. According to Melton, Couch punched her several times after she arrived at a friend’s residence on the day of the shooting, and later Couch and Caudill both assaulted her before a bystander pulled Couch away.
Following the assault, Melton claimed, the couple then left the residence on an ATV. Melton said it wasn’t long before she left as well, but not before a friend tried to unload the shotgun she was carrying inside her vehicle and asked her if she planned to use it on her brother. Melton said she had no plans to do so, and then left with the shotgun.
Bleeding from the assault, Melton testified that she had driven only a short distance before she met Couch on the ATV, stopped just ahead of her on a concrete bridge with Caudill sitting behind him. She claimed that she drove past, but Couch pulled up beside her and made what she said was a threat to her and her children.
“He said, ‘Whore, get back home because I’m going to rip lead through it,’” Melton testified, “’and I don’t give a damn if your bastards is in it or not.’”
That’s when Melton said she stopped the vehicle as Couch drove past. She said she stepped out of the vehicle and fired one shot from the shotgun she carried with her.
“I stopped, and stepped out,” Melton said. “l closed my eyes and just pulled the trigger.”
Melton later claimed that she feared for her children, whom she left at her new trailer on Brownsfork earlier that day. She testified that she wasn’t trying to shoot her bother or Cindy Caudill, but to shoot the four wheeler and disable it so she could get to her home and retrieve her children before they were harmed.
“I didn’t mean to kill anybody,” she said. “I just wanted shoot the four wheeler to stop it.”
Teaster went on to question Melton, asking her about her brother’s past, which she claimed was full of violent acts against women and others. Melton claimed that because of this past, she was sure that Couch was going to harm her children.
Melton’s testimony was in stark contrast to witness statements earlier in the trial indicating that she had threatened both Couch and Caudill, and that no physical altercation had taken place prior to the shooting.
On Monday, both Melissa Higgins and Jesse Couch testified for the prosecution that Melton had made threats against Couch and Caudill. Higgins and Couch said they didn’t see Bill Couch or Cindy Caudill assault Melton that day, while Higgins testified that she heard Bill Couch try to calm Melton down at one point, and told her that he loved her.
On Tuesday, Kenneth Couch testified that he heard Melton say that she would “do both of them,” in reference to her brother and Cindy Caudill. Bill Couch took the stand on Tuesday as well, noting that he was shot in the back of the head, and continues to suffer memory loss as a result from the shot.
During cross examination, Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Reed asked Melton why she failed to leave the friend’s residence after Bill Couch assaulted her.
“I don’t know,” Melton replied.
Teaster called his second witness to the stand, Melton’s brother, William Demming, but Demming testified only briefly as an evidentiary issue was brought up during a bench conference. Circuit Judge Bill Engle said the issue would require further research, and recessed the trial until Friday, when Teaster is expected to continue his defense.
Part of that defense will include an expert that will testify as to Melton’s state of mind, Teaster noted during his opening statements on Monday.
Prior to Wednesday’s testimony, Engle also ruled on the defense’s motion for a directed verdict to acquit Melton of all charges. According to defense attorney Brent Flowers, testimony from the prosecution’s witnesses was contradictory, and from the evidence presented at trial thus far, including Melton’s taped confession in which she claimed that she had been assaulted, there was a justification for self-defense.
“We are arguing that she was justified in this by self-defense,” Flowers said.
There had been no evidence of self-defense, argued Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Charles Allen, who noted that Caudill and Couch had been shot from behind. Testimony over the previous two days also pointed to something other than self-defense.
Engle ruled that there was enough evidence to continue to present the case to the jury, which followed with Teaster calling Melton to the stand.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 1:30 p.m. on Friday.