Mendenhall defense pokes holes in witness statements

Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 12:45am
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After a day of testimony from the state’s key witness, the jury in Bruce Mendenhall’s murder-for-hire trial is likely in for more of the same when the second police informant takes the stand Thursday.

Michael Jenkins, the 55-year-old inmate serving a 10-year sentence for burglary, reportedly approached police with information that Mendenhall had asked him to kill two Metro detectives in the spring of 2008.

The informant is likely to come under fire from defense attorneys who are attempting to discredit the state’s witnesses.

On Wednesday, Public Defender Dawn Deaner pointed out inconsistencies in Roy Lucas McLaughlin’s statements in court and raised questions about his motives.

The quiet McLaughlin on the witness stand was nothing like the swaggering inmate that appears in the wiretapped conversations played for the jury.

Inside the Davidson County Criminal Justice Center, the inmate was known by the nickname “C-4,” due to his charges for explosives, and on the audio recording McLaughlin banters with guards and prisoners, refers to himself as a hit man, and, at one point, flags down another inmate to arrange a second murder-for-hire.

McLaughlin testified that once Mendenhall approached him about having three witnesses in his first-degree murder case killed, the former inmate contacted Metro police detectives Pat Postiglione and Lee Freeman by letter on April 19.

But on cross-examination, Deaner snagged the witness in an inconsistency.

McLaughlin had testified that he befriended Mendenhall after he stood up for the defendant during an incident in the rooftop recreation area — the same place he claimed the two men discussed the murder-for-hire at a later date.

But according to sheriff’s department records, between the time he arrived in cellblock 5A and the day he sent the letter, McLaughlin only took one trip to the roof.

“If your jail records show that between April 2 and April 19 you made one trip to the roof for roofrec, then you’re not telling the truth, are you?” Deaner asked the witness.

McLaughlin responded by saying the sheriff’s department records were inaccurate.

Deaner also suggested McLaughlin approached authorities and agreed to wear a body wire hoping he would be cut a deal on pending charges.

Citing his own recorded jailhouse phone calls, the attorney asked the witness if he remembered telling friends and family the police couldn’t promise anything up front but that he was confident they were going to help and he would be out of jail by the end of May.

McLaughlin responded he was only referring to whether the police would transfer him to a different jail after he wore the wire and that his attorney had told him to expect to be out of custody at that date.

The murder-for-hire trial, which is expected to conclude this week, is a prelude to Mendenhall’s first-degree murder trial. The Illinois truck driver, who police suspect may be a serial killer, is charged in the death of an Ashland City woman found dumped at a north Nashville truck stop in 2007. That trial is scheduled to begin May 10, 2010.