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DAY 1 - Calcasieu coroner: '100 percent sure' Mary Horton Vail was murdered

Published: Aug. 9, 2016 at 4:42 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2016 at 1:05 AM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Calcasieu Parish Coroner Dr. Terry Welke said he is 100 percent sure that Mary Horton Vail was murdered.

Welke was the first witness to take the stand in the evidence phase of Felix Vail's murder trial. Opening statements were held Tuesday afternoon after a jury was seated.

KPLC's Theresa Schmidt is following the case. Keep up with the trial by clicking HERE or following her on Twitter.

Felix Vail is accused of murdering his wife, Mary Horton Vail, in 1962. Mary's death was ruled an accidental drowning when it happened, but her family never believed it. In 2013, Vail was indicted for murder after the case was reopened.

Welke testified that he was sure Mary was murdered after seeing two photographs - the only two photographs that have survived in the 54 years since she died. Welke testified about a scarf around her neck and face and said that she entered the water stiff. Welke told jurors that people who drown have more advanced decomposition than she had when her body was found in the Calcasieu River. People who drown are found in what's called the "dead man's float" position.

District Attorney John DeRosier said in opening statements that the doctors who examined Mary's body in 1962 didn't have such expertise.

DeRosier outlined the state's case, saying it consists of three chapters: the first is about Mary Vail; the second is about his girlfriend Sharon Hensley, and the third is about another wife, Annette Craver Vail. DeRosier said like Mary, Sharon and Annette are gone - presumed dead - and that Vail is the last one to have seen them alive.  DeRosier said the jury will write the fourth chapter when it finds Vail guilty of murder.

The defense, however, took a much different view.  Attorney Andy Casanave told jurors Annette may be in Mexico while Sharon could be in a nursing home in Cleveland.

Casanave told jurors to pay close attention to what the state does not have - since reports are missing and most of those who were around when Mary died are themselves dead. Casanave said if jurors pay attention to what isn't there, they will find Vail not guilty.

The defense will cross-examine Welke when the trial continues in the morning.

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