After a long morning of jury selection, the trial of Kelly Foutch and Labreeska Meeks got underway today at 3:15 p.m. Foutch and Meeks are charged with possession of a forged instrument, passing a forged instrument, and theft. It is alleged that they, along with James Edward “Eddie” Campbell, Jr. attempted to pass a will forged with the signature of Campbell’s late father, James Campbell, Sr., in August of 2012
Campbell, Jr. was tried in late June of last year, with a jury returning a verdict of not guilty of count one (forgery), but guilty on the lesser charges of the following attempts: passing a forged instrument over $250,000, possession of a forged instrument over $250,000, and conspiracy to commit theft over $250,000.
Today’s trial opened with statements from the District Attorney and lawyers for both Meeks and Foutch. Next, the prosecution presented three witnesses. First on the stand was James Stephens. Stephens previously had a private law practice in Tracy City and prepared wills for Campbell, Sr. and his wife Betty Sue on September 20, 2000. The wills were “mirror opposites” according to Stevens – if Campbell, Sr. passed away first, everything went to Betty Sue; if Betty Sue passed away first, everything went to Campbell, Sr. On both of their deaths, everything passed to their children, Campbell, Jr. and Susan Campbell.
(While no one has testified to the contents of the other two wills presented as evidence, prosecution made reference to their contents in opening statements. A will filed by Mickey McCloud and dated 2007, left 1/3 of the estate of Campbell, Sr. to his grandson – the son of Susan Campbell; 1/3 of the estate to Mickey McCloud; and, 1/3 of the estate to his two granddaughters – daughters of Campbell, Jr. The will filed by Campbell, Jr. and allegedly signed by Campbell, Sr. in 2012, restores the inheritance to Campbell, Jr. and Susan Campbell, disinherits McCloud and his two granddaughters, and leaves his home to his grandson.)
Roxanne Fults, City Recorder for Tracy City currently, and also under Campbell, Sr. when he was mayor, testified to signatures of Campbell, Sr. made during that time. These were most likely presented into evidence for later comparison.
Chancery Court Clerk and Master Phyllis Dent was also on the stand today, testifying to the filing of two wills on August 29, 2012, after the death of Campbell, Sr. earlier that month. The first will was filed by Campbell’s girlfriend Mickey McCloud. The second will (the one in question in this case and witnessed by Foutch and Meeks) was filed later that same day by Campbell, Jr. and his sister Susan.
The most interesting fact to come out at today’s portion of the trial concerned witness affidavits. In the will filed by Campbell, Jr. and his sister Susan, there was what the prosecution called a “curious clause” stating “I nearby request upon my death the attesting witnesses make affidavit of these events.”
Witness James Stephens called this a highly “bizarre” practice. Why? Normally, a will and the accompanying signatures are notarized at the time of signing. According to Stephens, this has several advantages. For example, the witnesses could pass away before the will was notarized or it might be difficult to find them after the death of the person making the will. In general, it just makes sense to have the will notarized at the time all are present for the signing. In fact, the will presented to Chancery Court for probate by Mickey McCloud followed this practice, with the will being signed and notarized on the same day.
But, the will presented by Campbell, Jr. and his sister Susan did not follow this normal procedure. It included the clause noted above and was signed in March of 2012 (with this being the signature in question), but not notarized until August 28, 2012 (after the death of Campbell, Sr.).
This practice of notarizing a will after the death of will’s maker is not considered illegal, but as Stephens stated in his testimony, it is “bizarre.” It will be interesting to see how this plays into the jury’s decision making process later this week.