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Testimony ends in Cole trial; Closing arguments underway
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By Carol McIntire
Jurors in the murder trial of Audrey Cole (also known as Audrey Branch) heard the defendant tell law enforcement how she picked up an AR 15 from under her bed, walked to the closet and retrieved a magazine, loaded the gun and began to walk down the hallway of the home she shared with her boyfriend.
As she walked past the entrance to the room where the couple’s three-year-old daughter was sleeping, she saw her boyfriend come around the corner.
“I pointed the rifle at him, he came at me and I shot him,” Branch told Major Calvin Graham and Investigator Richard Stauffer during a late night interview May 3, 2021, just hours after she shot Matthew Michael Mott in their Arbor Rd., Mechanicstown home.
A jury of eight women and four men will likely be tasked later today, the second day of her trial, with deciding if Branch shot Mott in self-defense or if she murdered him.
The prosecution rested its case late yesterday (Tuesday afternoon) and Carroll County Common Pleas Judge Michael V. Repella, II told legal council to be ready to proceed with closing arguments this morning. Following closing arguments, Judge Repella will provide the jury with instructions and send the group to deliberate the evidence.
The prosecution claims Branch murdered Mott. The defense says she was afraid for her life and shot him in self-defense.
The jury heard the nearly one and one-half hour interview early Monday afternoon during cross-examination of Stauffer, a witness for the prosecution.
It wasn’t the prosecution team who entered the recording into evidence; it was Defense Attorney April Campbell, who asked Judge Repella to play the entire recording for the jury, not to rely on Stauffer’s testimony.
“You haven’t told the jury everything,” Campbell said looking at Stauffer on the witness stand.
“During that interview Audrey talked about issues they both were dealing with. She talked about Matt’s aggression. Would it refresh your memory if we played the tape?” Campbell asked.
“She expressed concern about Matt’s aggression. She said he might have been triggered by events over the weekend. She said she shot Matt in the hallway; said he came at her in the same manner as he did before and she shot him. She told you she needed to get ‘out’ of the house because she didn’t know if he would come back. She didn’t know what he was going to do. She told you she was in fear for her life. She told you she was scared in the bedroom (where Mott attacked her), she was scared in the hallway and after she shot him,” Campbell said, her voiced raised as she leaned over a podium and looked straight at Stauffer.
Campbell again asked Judge Repella to play the recording of the entire interview with Prosecuting Attorney Steven D. Barnett objecting.
Following a brief recess, Barnett acknowledged the recording was going to entered into evidence at one point or the other (defense evidence) and then withdrew his objection, which allowed for the recording to be played on a TV located on the wall behind the witness stand.
During the interview, which took place after Graham transported Branch back to the county jail from a Canton hospital where she was treated for injuries, she told the two officers the domestic incident began earlier in the day over medication for the couple’s daughter.
“I went to my bedroom to get away from the situation,” Branch said in the interview. “He came in a few minutes later and was trying to pick a fight with me.”
She told how both had issues they were working on – Matt with PTSD and she was originally diagnosed with PTSD but the diagnosis was later changed. Both were in treatment programs at VA hospitals. She told about her previous suicidal idealizations and Matt’s previous alcohol use as well as a previous domestic incident that occurred in Maryland in 2017 when the couple lived there.
“He had progressively gotten worse since Christmas break. I told him we needed to be apart and I was in the process of buying a house.” Branch related in the voluntary interview.
“He grabbed me by the neck and started punching me in the head and face. He knocked my head into the wall. I tried to block him with my arms and hands. He was standing over me. I was yelling. Then he stopped and walked out. He was in a rage,” she continued.
According to Branch, that is when she grabbed the rifle from under bed, retrieved the magazine from the closet and loaded the gun. She began walking down the hallway in an effort to leave the home, to get away from the situation. The rifle, she said, was to protect her.
She told officers after she fired the single shot, she heard Matt say, “Oh the pain,” turn and run down the steps.
She calmly described going outside and, not seeing Matt, went back inside the home, saw blood on the door and called her mom. After talking to her mom, she called 911. With instruction from the 911 dispatcher, she went out into the yard and found her boyfriend on the ground, unresponsive.
Branch is charged with murder, an unclassified felony, and felonious assault, a second-degree felony, in connection with the May 3, 2021, death of her boyfriend, Matthew Michael Mott.
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