VAIL TRIAL DAY 2: Under cross, coroner stands by testimony

Published: Aug. 10, 2016 at 2:06 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2016 at 1:07 AM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Calcasieu Coroner Dr. Terry Welke on Wednesday stood by his earlier testimony that he's 100 percent sure that Mary Horton Vail was dead before she entered the Calcasieu River in 1962 and that it was a homicide. Welke underwent lengthy cross-examination by the defense Wednesday morning.

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.

Under cross, defense attorneys tried to discredit the coroner's absolute certainty that Mary Horton Vail's death was a homicide. Welke says he can tell in large part from two old photographs of her body that he says show she didn't drown and that she was dead when she entered the river.

Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier says the case is progressing well.

"His testimony (Welke's) was very clear.  He is absolutely convinced that the victim, Mary Horton Vail, was dead before she was ever placed into the water."

Welke testified Tuesday that he is "100 percent sure" Mary Horton Vail was murdered.

As the testimony continued Wednesday, the state produced various witnesses who say Vail made comments indicating he killed Mary Horton.

An acquaintance of Vail's from Mississippi, Wesley Turnage, testified "Felix said he didn't want the son he had and that he 'fixed that b**** so she'd never have another one.'"

The jury also heard from an elderly man who was there when Mary's body was recovered. Isaac Abshire saved photos and information he'd collected over the decades.

"His testimony today was that the body was rigid, was stiff when it was in the water and after it was taken out of the water. That is very significant to this case. It's significant because it's one of the indicators relative to whether she was dead before she ever went into the water,"said DeRosier.

And the jury heard from Mary's brother Will, who was younger than her. The jury saw a picture of Mary as Eunice High Homecoming Queen with Will, as a small boy. Will says Mary was very special, dearly loved and that her death devastated the family.

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

Felix Vail's attorney, Andy Casanave, has said Mary drowned in the river - and that Felix tried to save her but couldn't.

The defense is expected to put on a pathologist from Shreveport to refute Welke's conclusions.

A Texas private investigator, Gina Frenzel, testified that she found about 2,000 pages of journal entries in Felix Vail's Canyon Lake, Texas home.

She was originally investigating a previous fire on the property on which he was living but was contacted by Jerry Mitchell, a journalist investigating the case.

The earliest journal entry was from Dec. 31, 1984; however, she also found an Oct. 28, 2003, entry in which Felix Vail said he had been burning old papers from the attic.

Frenzel is expected to take the stand again Thursday morning.

An acquaintance of Felix Vail's in Mission Beach, CA, in the 1960s testified that he claimed to have killed his wife.

"Out of the blue, he says, 'I killed my wife,' "  Bruce Biedebach said.

Biedebach said he questioned him further, but when Felix Vail said it was ruled an accident drowning, he let it go. Nevertheless, "it didn't sit right with me."

Biedebach said he also had a "foggy" memory of Felix Vail telling him he had tried using an oar to try to pull her in, but had done more harm than good with the oar.

Biedebach maintained though that Felix Vail said, "I killed her."

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