3 Casteel Jurors See Lipstick Message On Mirror

Thursday, May 1, 2003 - by Rob York

Three witnesses in the Frank Casteel triple murder case reported Friday morning they had seen a message written in lipstick on a restaurant mirror the night before.

The female jurors said the writing said, "He did it."

Judge James Weatherford had each of the women called out separately to find out what they had seen. None of the women said the incident would affect their verdict, and the case continued.

One woman said that after she saw it, she pushed another juror back, saying, "We cannot enter this bathroom."

The juror said, "It could have been someone trying to tell someone else her husband was cheating on her. It's not going to influence me at all."

The incident was at the Boathouse Restaurant on Riverside Drive.

The jury from Nashville continued to hear from witnesses who said Casteel ran them off from his remote Signal Mountain property.

The testimony of one witness, who is now medically unable to come to court, was read to the panel. It was testimony the witness had given at the first trial.

Some witnesses from the first trial have since died.

In opening statements Thursday, special prosecutor Lee Davis said Casteel was the only person with the motivation to carry out the triple Signal Mountain murders in 1988.

But defense attorney John Cavett said, "Frank Casteel did not commit this crime."

A Nashville jury is hearing proof in the 15-year-old murder case at the Courts Building in Chattanooga.

Casteel was earlier convicted and given three life sentences, but the case was overturned and a new trial ordered.

The state contends that Casteel killed Richard Mason, 49; Kenneth Griffin, 22, and Earl Smock, 23, when they went three-wheeling on his remote property at the Blue Hole on the mountain.

Mr. Davis, who is trying the case along with District Attorney Bill Cox, noted that special efforts were required to move the bodies and vehicles.

He said the bodies wound up in an illegal dump in Marion County. He said they were put in a place they would be found to divert attention from the murder site.

"Who else would go to such extreme lengths to move the bodies?" he said.

Attorney Cavett said a number of stories had changed over the 15-year time period and he said witnesses' "memories have been enhanced to make Mr. Casteel look like a bad person."

He said five shotgun shells were found at the Helican Gate on Casteel property, but he said they did not come from Casteel's shotgun.

The first witness was Terry Mills, who said he went to the Casteel property with a co-worker, who is now his brother-in-law. That was the day the trio disappeared - July 9, 1988. He said they made it past the Helican Gate in a 4x4 truck when they were confronted by an angry, red-faced Casteel.

The witness said he reached to shake his hand, but Casteel pulled up a shotgun.

"I have never met anybody who scared me as much as he did," Mr. Mills said.

He said Casteel made them write down their names, addresses and description of their vehicles.

A book was entered as evidence in which Casteel had kept such names. The names of Mills and his friend were the last ones entered.

David Mosteller told of going to the Casteel property in a pickup and of Casteel holding a shotgun. He said Casteel said either, "Get off my property or I'll shoot you," or "Get off my property or I'll kill you," - he could not remember which.

Derrick Belk said he was in that same pickup and recalled Casteel cocking the gun and pointing it at his head.

When asked by Attorney General Bill Cox if he could look right down the barrel of the gun, Mr. Belk said that he could.

Both men were required to sign Casteel’s book.

Michael Killingsworth said he and Deanne Kennedy went to the remote site on June 11, 1988. He said they heard someone screaming, "Stop, don't go any further."

He said Casteel approached them carrying a shotgun.

The witness said, "He was very mad. He told us we were in big trouble. I told him I was sorry. I just kept apologizing."

He said when Casteel asked for his driver's license, he told him, "I'd rather not. I don't know you."

He said Casteel told him, "You're playing a dangerous game. I would kill if I had to to keep people off the property."

Mr. Killingsworth said, "We begged him to let us go."

Ms. Kennedy said a few weeks later she heard that three men had been killed after going to the area where they had been accosted by Casteel.

She said she told Mr. Killingsworth, "You really need to call the police and let them know." But she said he did not call at the time.

While cross-examining witness Stanley Nixon, Attorney Cavett asked about an incident between Mr. Nixon, Mr. Mason and Cecil Hickman, a caretaker of property on Signal Mountain. The prosecution attempted to block any testimony related to Mr. Hickman, saying that such testimony had been thrown out of the previous trial and that it would only confuse the jury. The defense argued that the law had changed since the last trial and that the jury needed to consider, “Is there anybody else who could have committed this crime?”

Judge Weatherford took a short recess before permitting the defense to proceed with the questioning. “I’m going to let it in for whatever its worth, but I don’t think much of it,” Judge Weatherford said.

Attorney Cavett asked Mr. Nixon about an incident in which, while hunting, he and Mr. Mason had been confronted by Mr. Hickman, who had been armed with a pistol. Mr. Nixon testified that Mr. Hickman had told him to leave the property immediately, and once he was out of Mr. Hickman’s sight, he heard the caretaker fire three shots.

“He did not shoot at (Mr. Mason),” Mr. Nixon said. “He shot three times in the air.” Mr. Nixon said that Mr. Hickman was shooting to draw Mr. Mason toward him so that he could tell Mr. Mason not to hunt on the property.

“You don’t know that,” Mr. Cavett responded. “You don’t know (Mr. Hickman’s) heart.”

There were no hard feelings between the Mr. Hickman and Mr. Mason, Mr. Nixon said. Asked by District Attorney Bill Cox if Mr. Hickman had been in the area on the weekend of the murders, Mr. Nixon said that the caretaker had been in Kentucky.

The testimony will resume Friday morning at 9 a.m., with Larry Sneed, the case’s lead detective testifying, Attorney Cox said. A source in the district attorney’s office said that 43 witnesses are scheduled to be called over a period of 10-14, but that this schedule could change from day-to-day.

Trevor Casteel, the defendant’s son, said after the day’s testimony that the last trial his father had received was unfair. “All of the judge’s rulings were quick,” he said. “He should get a fair trial this time as long as it is ran fair.”

“(Judge Weatherford) is at least giving it a chance,” he said.


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