News 12 Monday February 6, 2012
EVANS, Ga.---A 15-year old is on trial for murder in Columbia County. Aaron Schmidt is facing life in prison if he's convicted of murdering his friend and one-time girlfriend, Alana Calahan just more than a year ago, on January 31, 2011.
Prosecutors say Schmidt planned the shooting and stole a handgun from Alana's father days earlier. They say he shot her in the back of the head while the Harlem Middle School student was on Facebook uploading photos, then dragged the body to the woods behind the home to cover up the crime.
"Aaron Schmidt is nothing more than a cold blooded murderer," Paine tells the jury in opening statements.
Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine told the court Schmidt, a student at Grovetown High School, acted during a small window of opportunity, when Alana's sister, Amanda, was picking up their younger brother from the bus stop.
Several of the victim's family members took the stand Monday, reliving the day she was killed. Her mother, Betty Jo Calahan cried as she told the court about how her family considered their neighbor Aaron, a son and brother. He was frequently at their home working in the yard and playing with the children.
"He ate dinner at our table. I treated him like he was one of my kids," cries Betty Jo Calahan.
Several bus drivers for the Columbia County School System recalled the days events, including seeing Schmidt walking around suspiciously around the neighborhood.
Prosecutors outlined how Schmidt first claimed he saw an intruder leaving the area where the body was found, then he changed his story dozens of times, before admitting the shooting was an accident.
"For about an hour and a half to two hours, he tells these investigators story after story after story. He's constantly changing his story to mold to the case" says Paine.
Public Defender Penelope Donkar told the jury Aaron snapped, panicked and then lied to investigators to cover up an accident. She outlined a host of family issues dating back years on his mother's side, including incest. At the time of the murder, Schmidt was in the custody of his older half-sister, who raised him from a young age. Donkar admits her client was not "sympathetic" and that he himself had just been through a trauma.
"This was a tragedy. This was a tragedy where a 14-year old girl lost her life, but this is a case of a seriously traumatized, neglected 14-year old little boy...snapping," explains Donkar in opening statements.
The 15-year old looked every much like an average, growing teenager--but he's a teenager on trial for a very grown up crime.
The victim's mother also recalled an afternoon, just a few days before the murder, where the family had come home to find Schmidt inside the home. He claimed the door was unlocked, but the family didn't believe him. Betty Jo told the court she raised her voice at him, telling him he could not be there without adults present. She says he left without an attitude.
Amanda Calahan testified about finding her sister's body and trying to perform CPR to save her life. Photos of both Amanda's and Aaron's bloody hands and clothes were shown in court.
Evidence showed a stolen gun case, gun manual, jewelry, digital camera and house keys all belonging to the Calahan family, were found at Schmidt's residence after his arrest.
Donkar told the court Schmidt stole the gun to protect himself from bullies at Grovetown High School that had beaten him up the week before at the school.
The Public Defender's office is asking the jury consider voluntary manslaughter instead of a murder charge, which would only carry a 20 year maximum sentence. Schmidt is also charged with possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, and theft by taking.
News 12 will be back in the courtroom on Tuesday as more evidence is presented, including the 911 call made by both Amanda and Aaron. Stay tuned to News 12 and wrdw.com for continuing coverage.