BELTON — Jurors in the capital murder trial of Cedric Marks may get to deliberate their verdict in a death penalty case Wednesday after both sides in the trial said they plan for about an hour’s worth of closing arguments.
State District Judge Steve Duskie told the jury Tuesday they are nearing the end of their service moments after District Attorney Henry Garza rested in close.
“Ladies and gentlemen, what that means you’ve heard all the evidence in this case,” Duskie said. “…We will do closing arguments, then we will meet and deliberate.”
Marks is accused of strangling his ex-girlfriend, Jenna Scott, and her friend, Michael Swearingin, in 2019. A host of local, state and federal police investigators say Marks abducted, killed, then buried Scott and Swearingin’s bodies in a shallow grave in remote Oklahoma, where they were later unearthed with the help of co-defendant-turned informant, Maya Maxwell.
On Tuesday, prosecutors called the last of three witnesses to the stand to try and counter previous testimony elicited from Marks, who’s representing himself in his own trial.
Killeen detective back on stand
“It is in rebuttal as a direct result of Mr. Marks cross examination in this case,” Garza said of the state’s first witness, Killeen police Detective Amanda Holtzclaw, on Tuesday morning.
Garza wanted to know if there was indeed a standing protection order still in place when Marks was caught on video at Jenna Scott’s front door on Aug. 21, 2018.
“On August 15, 2018, was there a protective order in place at the time that would have prevented him from being 200 yards away from her place?” Garza asked Holtzclaw.
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
Marks objected to the testimony.
“This is a capital murder trial, not a violation of protective order trial,” Marks said.
Duskie allowed the testimony to continue Tuesday.
“I’m going to overrule your objections, Mr. Marks,” Duskie said.
When Scott and Swearingin went missing, Holtzclaw knew she had to hand over the case file she’d developed on Scott and Marks.
“When you found out Jenna Scott was missing, what did you do?” Garza asked the detective, who first testified at the trial earlier this month.
“I provided all my case information to them (the district attorney’s office) as well as those departments that requested it,” Holtzclaw said.
Evidence presented in court details Marks sent videos of domestic disputes and court records to the University of Mary Hardin Baylor where Scott had enrolled in an advanced nursing program and to the state nursing board.
“Have you ever seen something like this in your investigative experience?” Garza asked Holtzclaw.
“Not to that extent,” she replied.
Marks asked Holtzclaw if such correspondence was against the law.
“Was my sending or updating people on the case illegal?” Marks asked the detective.
“No,” she replied.
Marks wanted to know why he was never charged for not leaving Scott alone.
“Why wasn’t I charged with stalking?” Marks asked Holtzclaw.
“I can’t answer that,” Holtzclaw said. “I passed it to the district attorney’s office and it was held as extraneous.”
‘She was threatened’
The state then called Bruce Thomas, Scott’s longtime friend and former roommate from Austin.
“We were friends since 2010 at UMHB,” Thomas said Tuesday, referring to their days together at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton.
Thomas testified Scott and Marks’ relationship wasn’t a healthy one.
“It was a toxic relationship the whole time,” Thomas said. “Two or three years.”
First Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Newell asked why Jenna didn’t leave Marks.
“Do you know why she stayed in the relationship?” Newell asked Thomas.
“She was threatened,” Thomas answered.
Prosecutors proceeded to show jurors a host of social media messages sent by Marks to Thomas and Swearingin beginning Aug. 17, 2018, and continuing until at least Jan. 5, 2019, one day after Scott and Swearingin were reported missing. The messages detailed behavior by Marks, who seemed jealous of any males who might have relationships with Scott. Thomas testified he never answered Marks many messages.
“Did you ever respond to these messages?” Newell asked.
“No,” Thomas replied.
Marks was apparently threatening to come to what he thought was Thomas’ place of employment, a local gym in Killeen.
“I passed by your place the other day not looking for her, but wanting to talk to you,” Marks said in one message to Thomas. “I think I’ll pass by your store – Stan Schlueter, right? Yes. I’ll do that. Sounds all kinds of insane, right?”
By September 2018, the messages had become more menacing.
“That’s who you (expletive) killed, dude,” Marks texted Thomas along with a photo of Thomas and Scott together. “Never forget that.”
Marks said he was ready to go to jail as a court date for a protective order neared.
“I’m not exactly minding going to jail, so Bruce, please don’t be the reason I do,” Marks’ text said. “That’s not a threat — just letting you know.”
Thomas said Scott was terrified of Marks at the time.
“She did not want to be alone,” Thomas said of Scott.
When a Bell County district judge at least partly denied a request for a full protection order against Marks, Thomas said Scott felt helpless.
“She was distraught,” Thomas said. “She felt like the system failed her and she had no one else to help her.”
On Jan. 5, 2019, one day after Scott and Swearingin were reported missing, Marks sent Thomas a final message.
“I know you’re ignoring me, but a friend just messaged that Jenna is missing,” Marks’ text read. “Is this true?”
Upon cross examining Thomas, Marks asked if he had ever been to Thomas’ home or place of employment, but Thomas said he hadn’t. Marks also asked if he had ever threatened Swearingin’s life.
“Did you see any messages of me threatening Michael Swearingin’s life?” Marks asked Thomas.
“Yeah,” Thomas replied.
“Where are they?” Marks asked.
“They were in Michael’s phone,” Thomas said.
Swearingin’s phone was never recovered.
Marks wanted to know if Thomas had ever witnessed physical abuse.
“Did you ever witness me abuse Jenna Scott?” Marks asked.
“No,” Thomas answered.
Marks asked Thomas why he didn’t block Marks on social media.
“Why didn’t you press the block button?” Marks asked Thomas.
“I figured I’d have to use this later,” Thomas answered. “…You should have known that I wasn’t responding and your continuous messages weren’t helping your case at all.”
Previous testimony used cellphone pings to track Marks and his co-defendant Maya Maxwell as they drove to Austin the night of Jan. 3, 2019, when prosecutors believe Scott and Swearingin were abducted and killed. Newell asked if Thomas knew why Swearingin’s car was found in a certain area of Austin.
“That’s the area where I work and live,” Thomas said.
Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors and Marks said they plan on making closing arguments for about an hour and 15 minutes each beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday inside the 426th District Court in Belton.
“I think an hour and 15 minutes is a reasonable time,” Duskie said Tuesday.