The daughter of an 83-year-old Frankston man allegedly murdered almost two years ago testified Wednesday that her father had become frail in his later years and had difficulty with his balance.

Cynthia Alexander, the daughter of Fred Hayes, was the state’s first witness Wednesday in the murder trial of 57-year-old Wanda Blackwelder of Frankston who is accused of killing Hayes, her husband of eight months, in May 2004.

Hayes was found deceased — his body partially in a bathtub — inside the couple’s residence on Garrison Street in Frankston during the early morning hours of May 18, 2004, authorities have said.

Law enforcement authorities had responded to the couple’s residence after Blackwelder called 9-1-1 around 4:45 a.m. on May 18, 2004, saying the couple had gotten in an argument and indicating her husband was deceased.

An autopsy performed at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas ruled Hayes died as a result of blunt and sharp force injuries.

In the state’s opening statement Wednesday, Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe told the seven-woman, five-man jury that the autopsy showed Hayes sustained between 55-to-60 blows to his head; suffered two broken ribs; a broken nose; and had three bite marks on his body.

After the jury was seated late Wednesday morning, Blackwelder, who is represented by local attorneys Mark Calhoon and Dan Scarbrough, pled “not guilty” to the charge of murder.

Blackwelder’s attorneys are expected to argue that their client acted in self-defense after the couple had gotten into an argument.

Alexander, who resides in Canton, was the first witness called to testify by the state.

Testifying through tears at times, Alexander told the jury her father had met Blackwelder in summer 2003, approximately four years after his first wife had died as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.

Hayes married Blackwelder in September 2003, according to Alexander’s testimony.

Alexander also told the jury her father had “lost a tremendous amount of weight the last three years of his life” and suffered from a balance disorder known as ataxia.

Hayes weighed 146 at the time of his death, Lowe said in the state’s opening statement.

Ataxia is marked by clumsiness or loss of coordination and can affect one’s fingers, hands, arms, legs, body, speech and eye movements. It often occurs when parts of the nervous system that control movement are damaged, according to a medical web site on the condition.

Shortly after the couple’s marriage, Alexander testified Blackwelder told her that caring for her father “was more difficult that she thought it would be.”

Later Wednesday afternoon, jurors heard a 9-1-1 tape of Blackwelder’s early morning call to the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office during which she tells the dispatcher she hit her husband in the head multiple times and that he was deceased.

Blackwelder can be heard crying loudly at times on the tape.

Authorities have indicated Blackwelder had possibly been consuming alcohol in the hours preceding Hayes’ death.

During the state’s opening statement, Lowe described Blackwelder’s marriage to Hayes as “a marriage of convenience.”

“The problem is when it became inconvenient, Wanda Blackwelder murdered Fred Hayes on May 18, 2004 in Frankston, Anderson County, Texas,” Lowe argued.

Blackwelder had difficulty maintaining steady employment and also suffered from alcohol and depression problems, Lowe said during his opening statement.

Hayes became acquainted with Blackwelder during a telephone conversation in July or August 2003, according to Lowe. Blackwelder was employed by a fence company in Jacksonville at the time, he added.

The couple married a couple of months later.

“What he (Hayes) needed was a caretaker, somebody to take care of him,” Lowe told the jury.

Lowe indicated that Blackwelder’s primary motive in marrying Hayes was money.

Hayes’ will was changed around the time of their marriage, naming Blackwelder as the beneficiary of his estate and the woman’s son as the alternate beneficiary.

“He (Hayes) was able to accumulate $13,000 in the bank at 83 years of age,” Lowe told the jury. “...When they got married, Wanda started spending the money.”

During the defendant’s opening statement, Calhoon told jurors that he had “a vastly different opinion of what took place.

“They simply want to inflame your passions that someone would kill for money,” Calhoon argued.

The changing of Hayes’ will was “an absolutely normal occurrence when you get married,” he told the jury.

Calhoon described the couple’s relationship as “volatile” and said they had been “in a dispute” in the hours preceding Hayes’ death.

The physical confrontation that ultimately resulted in Hayes’ death began, according to Calhoon, when Blackwelder found her husband laying on the floor.

Blackwelder offered to help Hayes off the ground, but he declined, saying he did not want her assistance, according to Calhoon.

“You’ll hear he punched her and kicked her in the chest,” Calhoon said in his opening statement.

Blackwelder subsequently gained the advantage and started striking Hayes with a statue of a peacock, according to Calhoon.

Upon realizing the extent of Hayes’ injuries, Calhoon said Blackwelder called 9-1-1, seeking help for her husband.

“Is that consistent with intent and knowingly and willingly?” asked Calhoon, saying he would ask the jury to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Testimony in the trial — which is expected to continue into next week — resumed this morning at the Anderson County Courthouse.

If convicted of murder, Blackwelder could face between five-to-99 years or life in prison.

369th State District Judge Bascom W. Bentley III is presiding over the trial.

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