During Brandy Stewart Yates' last telephone conversation with her estranged husband, she planned to return home to Alabama.
But she didn't answer her phone when her husband, James Yates Jr., called her room at the Rocky Creek Inn in Lucedale at 5 a.m. last Aug. 27 to tell her he was leaving to pick her up, he testified in court Tuesday.
Later that morning, George County sheriff's investigators found her mutilated body between the two beds in her partially burned room.
District Attorney Tony Lawrence says Joseph Bishop Goff, a 29-year-old Theodore, Ala., man who Yates had left her husband and two young children for three weeks earlier, killed her with a blow to the chest and set her motel room on fire to cover up the crime. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in Goff's capital murder and arson trial.
Goff, who fired his attorneys Monday, is defending himself. Circuit Judge Dale Harkey appointed Goff's former attorneys Jeff Deen and Scott McNally as co-counsel.
James Yates Jr. said in court that he spoke to his 29-year-old wife several times that evening and she told him that Goff had slapped her and dropped her off at the motel.
"She was highly upset," he said. "She was crying over the phone. She was upset because she hadn't seen the kids and she wanted to see them."
When James Yates called the room about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 26, a male voice that he recognized as Goff's answered the phone but he hung up.
In an effort to cast suspicion on the husband, Deen asked him if his marital problems stemmed from physical abuse.
"I love my wife," James Yates responded. "And I do to this day."
Earlier in the trial, Rocky Creek Inn desk clerk Margaret Clark testified that she made a duplicate key for Goff after he told her he and his girlfriend were locked out of the room.
George County Sheriff Garry Welford testified that he responded to the 911 call made by the motel manager about a fire and body in room 121. "I saw two feet sticking beyond the ends of the beds and what appeared to be body organs thrown about the room," Welford testified.
Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol troopers arrested Goff Aug. 27 during a traffic stop for a defaced tag along Interstate 20 in Warren County. Trooper Jason W. Ginn said in court that Goff's behavior and vague answers about traveling to Texas made him suspicious.
Ginn contacted the George County Sheriff's Department after Goff told him he had lost his girlfriend in Lucedale during an argument. "I felt like something bad might have happened," Ginn said. "I wanted to check on Ms. Stewart's well-being."
Distributed by the Associated Press