SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WHNT) – In day three of testimony in the high-profile Jackson County murder trial for Barry Whitton, Sheriff Chuck Phillips took the stand.
Still the State’s case, lawyers called Sheriff Chuck Phillips to the stand. Sheriff Phillips was an investigator in 1997, and worked the initial case, starting the day Michelle Whitton went missing.
Phillips recalled the day Michelle went missing in December 1997. He testified he spoke with Barry Whitton, who said Michelle told him she went to get breakfast. Whitton said at the time, he waited a few hours and then went looking for her, driving down to Scottsboro and other places, and then went back to their home. Whitton then told him he went to Rainsville, then to Michelle’s mother’s home.
Sheriff Phillips testified Whitton had described what Michelle was wearing at the time she went missing — a pink sweat suit and sandals.
The State asked if Phillips remembered when the car was found, which was a week later in DeKalb County. He said he was involved with that aspect in small detail, and said the car was processed on the scene. Questions turned to the wallet that was found on the ground near the car, which belonged to Shane Byrum.
Byrum’s father and wife testified on Tuesday, saying Byrum would frequently lose things. Testimony revealed the property was owned by the Byrum family, and Shane Byrum and his father would work where the car was found often. They had reportedly worked out there prior to Michelle’ disappearance. Testimony revealed Shane Byrum and his father had been out of town on business when Michelle disappeared. Byrum’s wife testified Shane had passed away several years ago.
Sheriff Phillips then testified through processing, investigators were able to get at least one print from the seat belt of the car, but in cross-examination it was revealed that to Sheriff’s Phillips’ knowledge, the print didn’t match any suspect in the case. He couldn’t recall if Michelle’s prints were compared to the print found. It was determined that print was the only one of value in the car.
Sheriff Phillips says investigators searched Shane Byrum’s home, but said they didn’t find anything related to the homicide. He testified nothing developed from the wallet being found in relation to the homicide.
The State called Doyle York, a retired investigator with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, who at one point was the lead investigator in Michelle Whitton’s homicide.
He testified he processed the car when it was found. A purse with money was found in it, and York testified “it looked like theft wasn’t the intention, it looked like it was just dropped off.” Testimony revealed it was Michelle’s purse as her driver’s license was in it.
York also testified they found a jacket in the car, a gun, keys, and some other items, but he couldn’t remember what those were.
The questioning then turned to suspects and persons of interest. The State asked York if, as a lead investigator, did he develop a suspect in the case. York replied it was Barry Whitton. The State asked if they had developed persons of interest, and York testified they did, but nothing came of those individuals. York told the court they followed up on multiple leads, and Whitton remained a suspect.
The State brought out a note Whitton had left for Michelle the day she was reportedly missing, reading ‘Hi sweetheart, we got worried you broke down, so we went out looking for you. Love, Barry and Ethan. P.S. we left at 11:03.’ The State asked York if it was significant to him, and he replied it was, saying to him, it looked as if Whitton had started a timeline, and said it “looked a little odd to me.”
The State finished by asking about persons of interest and the suspect again. York testified again to that effect, saying they had ruled out each person of interest, but were not able to rule out Barry Whitton.
In the cross-examination, Whitton’s lawyers asked York if he was related to Michelle. York testified that he was not, but his wife was distantly related.
The defense asked if any photographs were taken of the car, and York replied he couldn’t remember. York testified he processed the car at the scene, had it towed to another location, and continued the proceedings. The defense asked if York remembered if anyone processed tire tracks, footprints, or the area outside the car, and York replied he didn’t remember seeing any footprints, and didn’t recall the weather or how long the car had been sitting there.
Again, the questions turned to the wallet found outside the car belonging to Shane Byrum, and a receipt found in the wallet, dated just shortly before Michelle’s death.
The questions turned to whether or not Shane Byrum was a person of interest in the case, to which York replied he was not.
The defense asked about several other people who were in acquaintance with Shane Byrum, who investigators talked with in the months after Michelle’s death. The defense questioned the investigation, asking York if those people were ever persons if interest, if they were interviewed, and if those interviews were followed up with. A statement was read from one of those individuals mentioning that person had found the car, thought about going through its contents, but decided not to, and didn’t report it. The defense questioned the investigation in that aspect, whether or not that statement was followed up on. York told lawyers those people weren’t considered suspects ultimately, and said he didn’t believe the person in question knew Michelle Whitton.
Whitton’s lawyers accused York of singling out Barry Whitton as a suspect. York said at one point he did through the course of the investigation, but the defense said it was at the beginning. York replied they did not, they worked the case, and everything pointed to Whitton.
The defense then asked if they had gone through the same forensic techniques in the homes of persons of interest or in Michelle’s car, as they did in Whitton’s home.
York replied that the evidence came from Barry Whitton’s home, and said that was the only place they found evidence.
Court will continue Thursday at 8:30 a.m.