Huntsville, ALA. (WHNT) – The mother of convicted killer, Nicholas “Nick” Acklin, spoke quietly as she described his childhood, during a hearing to determine whether her son deserves a new trial. Acklin was sentenced to death in 1998 for shooting six people, four of them fatally, in what became known as the “Cell Phone Murders.” Acklin, along with Joey Wilson, committed the shooting at a home on University Drive because one of the victims had reported Wilson for stealing a cell phone.
After 15 years, Acklin’s appeal that he did not receive a fair trial has made its way to Madison County Circuit Court Judge Chris Comer. Velma Evans, divorced from Acklin’s father since 1982, described the tension in the family home after Theodis “Ted” Acklin learned she had been unfaithful. She said, “I was always frightened.”
Evans told the court Ted Acklin held a gun to her several times and once pushed her out a second-floor window. After about a year, she says he served her with divorce papers, which she signed without reading. Her four sons, of which Nick was the eldest, went to live with their father. Asked if she was ever concerned for the boys’ safety, she said, “I didn’t feel he would actually hurt them.”
However, Evans testified both Nick and another son, Steven, later told her their father had also pointed guns at them. In the alleged incident involving Steven Acklin, he initially reported the abuse to school officials. They informed Evans and told her she could file a police report. She said she never did, although the Department of Human Resources did take a report.
Evans told the court she remained quiet about the abuse until just before Nick Acklin’s trial, finally telling defense attorney Behrouz Rahmati about it. Attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights, who are now representing Acklin, are trying to show the abuse should have been disclosed at trial. They say that omission, along with other issues, points to poor performance by counsel.
Monday, Rahmati testified in the hearing that he wanted to introduce the allegations as a potentially mitigating factor at sentencing. However, Nick Acklin forbid him from doing so and even signed a waiver because the decision was against legal advice. Tuesday, Rahmati’s co-counsel, Kevin Gray provided similar testimony. The second day of the hearing also involved testimony from attorneys Mark McDaniel and Robert Tuten. McDaniel assisted with jury selection at the 1998 trial. Tuten was appointed to represent Acklin on appeal.
Wednesday, an expert on mitigation investigators is expected to testify. These investigators are typically hired to search for evidence that might lessen a defendant’s culpability. No such investigator was used in Acklin’s case. The defense has intimated that was a mistake. Other testimony is expected to come from Acklin’s father. Ted Acklin has been subpoenaed in the case, although he has yet to be called.
Joey Wilson is also seeking a new trial, although a hearing has not been scheduled in his case. A third man, who was with Acklin and Wilson but did not fire a shot, was sentenced to 15-years and has since been released.