Theatrical legal wrangling and a hostile mother testifying against her son highlighted the first day of Elder Dennis Potlow's murder trial on charges that he rammed his mother's car and killed his pregnant girlfriend and her unborn child. The jury had to leave the courtroom twice on Monday as lawyers bickered with each other and Potlow's mother, who at one point screamed in anger and fought against repeated requests to answer direct questions.
Elizabeth Ann Burdine shouted as she claimed that an unresponsive 911 service was in large part to blame for the April 2007 chase and crash in downtown Greenville that killed a friend, Potlow's girlfriend and the unborn son that he fathered.
"Where was they at?! Where was they at when I needed them?!" Burdine said as she reluctantly answered a series of questions from the prosecution, which had called her as a witness.
Circuit Judge Ned Miller several times ordered Burdine to answer questions and, at one point, sent the jury out of the courtroom and allowed Burdine to step down from the witness stand to compose herself.
Again, the judge the ordered the jury out of the courtroom and warned both prosecutor Jeff Weston and defense attorney John Mauldin to calm down in their heated disputes with each other over how they were presenting their cases.
In statements to police that were read in court, the 38-year-old Potlow first denied ramming his mother's car and claimed she was high on cocaine. In another statement, he later described how he chased the car and rammed it but didn't mean to kill anyone.
In one of the statements, Potlow told police that he intended to shoot an officer when he was arrested two days later outside a Spartanburg soup kitchen but had thrown the pistol he was carrying in some bushes and that the officer "lucked up on him."
"I could have been famous," he said in the statement, referring to the surety that shooting a law enforcement officer would garner wide media coverage.
Potlow is charged with two counts of murder, one count of death of a child in utero due to violent crime and two counts of assault and battery with intent to kill.
Potlow is accused of firing a gun and chasing and ramming the car his mother was driving as she fled from him after an argument broke out between Potlow and his girlfriend.
Vanessa Vance -- who was Potlow's girlfriend and was three months pregnant with Potlow's son -- was killed in the Easter Sunday crash on Church Street, along with a friend of Burdine's who was in the car, Dorothy White.
Burdine and another passenger were injured.
During testimony, Burdine admitted to being conflicted about testifying for the prosecution and vehemently refused to identify pictures of the victims.
Burdine testified that on the evening of April 8, 2007, she pulled up to her Ladson Street home, saw Potlow and Vance arguing and drove away to a street corner to keep the confrontation from escalating.
Vance had earlier put Potlow out of her home and left his clothes on his mother's porch, Burdine testified.
As Burdine sat at the street corner with the two other passengers, Vance ran to Burdine's car, jumped in the backseat, screamed that Potlow had a gun and implored her to drive away fast, Burdine testified.
Burdine testified that she speeded out of the neighborhood onto Augusta Road as Potlow pursued her from behind, slamming into the car first as she turned onto Church Street and then a second time near University Ridge, where the car spun out of control and crashed into a telephone pole.
Burdine testified that she called 911 on her cell phone but spoke to a recording as she drove to the law enforcement center downtown in hopes that police could "keep down trouble." At one point, she testified, White yelled that she wanted out of the car but Burdine told her it was too dangerous.
Prosecutors said that later in the trial they plan to play a recording of Burdine's call to dispatchers.
In earlier statements to police, prosecutors said, Burdine told them she heard gunshots. In court on Monday, Burdine said she hadn't heard any shots nor had she seen a gun.
In opening statements, Assistant Solicitor Doug Webb, who is prosecuting the case with Weston, told the jury that prosecutors could prove that Potlow intended to kill and that state law regarding the death of an unborn child doesn't require a jury to consider the viability or developmental stage of a fetus.
In defense, Mauldin argued that Potlow didn't mean to kill but instead was guilty of reckless disregard for human life, for which an involuntary manslaughter charge -- which carries a lighter sentence -- is more appropriate.
Mauldin said that the statement in which Potlow denied ramming the car and threatened to kill an officer was given after he had admitted to drinking and taking ecstasy five hours earlier and while he declined to acknowledge that he understood he was giving up his constitutional rights to remain silent.
The judge ruled against Mauldin's request to suppress the statement, saying that evidence showed that Potlow was capable of giving a statement of his own free will.
Mauldin also objected to a statement from a Greenville County jail cellmate that the prosecution plans to present to the jury to prove that Potlow meant to kill.
Earlier in the day, Potlow sought to have Mauldin dismissed from the case, citing displeasure that Mauldin hadn't filed particular legal motions that Potlow wanted filed. Potlow decided to keep Mauldin after the judge warned him that the trial would go on with or without a defense attorney.