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Murder trial begins for man charged in case in which prosecutors say victim was stabbed 22 times, shot three times and thrown in a well
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Murder trial begins for man charged in case in which prosecutors say victim was stabbed 22 times, shot three times and thrown in a well

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A Beulah man is on trial for murder after prosecutors said he stabbed a 72-year-old man 22 times and shot him three times before attaching cinderblocks to his body and dumping it in a well.

Hubert Timothy Sprayberry, 59, is facing a murder intentional charge after James Edmund Clarke’s body was discovered in Sprayberry’s well with multiple stab wounds and gunshot wounds in December 2019.

Assistant District Attorney Garrett Saucer said evidence during the trial at the Lee County courthouse in Opelika would show that Clarke, a “weak, frail, older man,” was killed by Sprayberry, and that intention was not a question during the case.

“How was he killed? He was stabbed 22 times. He was shot three times,” Saucer said during his opening statement Tuesday. “You don’t stab somebody 22 times, shoot them three times in the head then tie multiple cinderblocks to their body to put them in a 20-foot [deep] well full of water and then plan on him getting out of it.”

Saucer said evidence would further show that Sprayberry was packing up his belongings and getting ready to leave town “before the cops could find what he was hiding.”

“This all starts from a missing persons report made by a man called Jerry Watkins … he knew Mr. Clarke,” Saucer said. “[Watkins] hadn’t seen [Clarke] in a while and started wondering where he [was]. … Nobody knew at that time while Mr. Clarke was missing, Mr. Sprayberry had already killed him. He already stripped him of his clothes and left him naked, a dead body in a well with cinderblocks tied to it. He put a plastic bag around his head, I guess to make good damn sure he was dead.”

Elijah Beaver, Sprayberry’s defense attorney, told the jury the burden of proof was on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sprayberry was the person responsible for killing Clarke and that he did so intentionally, and urged the jury to listen to the evidence presented over the course of the trial.

“I expect we’re not going to be arguing very vociferously about whether Mr. Clarke is deceased or even whether he was, in fact, murdered,” Beaver said. “I expect this to be more about ‘who dunnit.’ Who did the killing. … At the end of the trial, we think there’s not going to be enough [evidence] to prove beyond a reasonable doubt … that Mr. Sprayberry killed anybody,” Beaver said.”

Background

Sprayberry was arrested and charged with murder intentional on Dec. 30, 2019 after authorities with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office found Clarke’s body in a well located in Sprayberry’s yard in Beulah.

According to testimony from Lee County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Greg Sumner during a preliminary hearing in Feb. 2020, Sprayberry tried to get his sister, Sabrina Brown, to go to Georgia with him the night of his arrest.

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Sumner testified that after investigators arrived at Sprayberry’s house they examined the concrete well, which was covered by a concrete lid, 23-24 feet deep, had two shoes floating on top of the water and had “a god-awful stench.”

A hook was lowered into the well which first hooked onto two cinder blocks linked by rope, and the second time the hook was lowered it caught hold of Clark’s body, Sumner testified.

The body had stab wounds as well as three gunshot wounds to the head, Sumner testified. There were no exit wounds and all three bullets were recovered in Clark’s head.

A plastic bag had been tied around his head and a cinder block had been tied around his neck. Another cinder block had been tied around his feet, Sumner testified.

The body was decomposed and it took some time to positively ID the body as Clark’s through DNA evidence, Sumner testified.

Sprayberry’s belongings were packed into boxes and bags, the mattress in his room was gone and investigators discovered the charred remains of a mattress in a fire pit outside, Sumner said.

Sprayberry’s van was also searched and a luminol test revealed blood in the vehicle, which Sprayberry told investigators belonged to a deer he had transported in his van, Sumner said.

Probable cause was found at the end of the preliminary hearing and the case was forwarded to a grand jury, which returned with an indictment against Sprayberry in July 2020.

Sprayberry then pled not guilty to the murder intentional charge by reason of mental disease or defect the same month, though the court found that “reasonable grounds do not exist to doubt the defendant’s mental competency” in Nov. 2020, according to court documents.

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