Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr. believed his wife was having an affair with a local pastor when he killed them both, State Attorney Ed Brodsky said Monday during opening statements of Avalos’ capital murder trial.
And his neighbor just showed up at the wrong place at the wrong time when Avalos killed her, Brodsky added.
Testimony got underway Monday morning in the trial of Avalos, charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the Dec. 4, 2014, killings of his wife Amber Avalos, 33; neighbor Denise Potter, 46; and the Rev. James “Tripp” Battle III, 31.
If Avalos is convicted on any of the first-degree murder charges, the state will seek the death penalty.
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His attorneys have mounted an insanity defense. To be successful, they will have to prove Avalos did not understand what he did was wrong or that it was criminal or morally wrong.
The prosecutor’s opening remarks, as well as testimony from several sheriff’s deputies and crime scene technicians, offered the most detailed account of what happened on the day of the slayings, the possible motive and the subsequent 51-hour manhunt for Avalos.
Brodsky told the 14 jurors — made up of 10 women and 4 men, including two alternates — that the evidence in the prosecution’s case would detail the “three moments in time” when Avalos killed the three victims in a jealous rage.
Amber Avalos was found in a back room of the couple’s Bradenton home, her head and torso suspended with a cord tied to a cabinet, according to Brodsky. She had multiple blunt force trauma injuries to her face, a swollen eye, major swelling to the rest of her face and bruising to her scalp and the side of her head.
Avalos had shot her once, Brodsky said.
Potter was found lying on her side in the hallway. She had been shot five times.
The couple’s then 4-year-old child had been home and was playing video games when Avalos killed his wife, according to Brodsky. When the boy asked where his mother was, Avalos told the boy, “She was gone.”
But the boy did see his mother’s body before his father announced it was time for him to go to school, the prosecutor stated.
Defense attorney Richard Watts told jurors that Avalos believed his wife had brought the streets into their home and was having affairs with rival gang members. He conceded that Avalos had hit his wife so hard it left her unconscious and then he killed her.
“He had to fight for his life,” Watts said.
As Avalos was loading his son into his vehicle, Potter showed up at the home. The two women worked together cleaning houses, so Avalos knew she would find his wife’s body and he wasn’t ready for the police to be called yet — so he went inside and shot and killed her, Brodsky said.
After dropping his son at daycare and dumping his SUV at the Walmart on State Road 64 in an effort to continue avoiding detection, Avalos took a taxi cab to Bayshore Baptist Church on U.S. 41, the state attorney said. When Avalos got to the church, Battle was not there.
Battle’s wife was in the church office, however, and Avalos began telling her how he believed their spouses were having an affair with one another, Brodsky said. Then she watched as Avalos walked out and shot her husband dead.
Avalos went into hiding in the woods behind the Pine Haven Mobile Home Park, just blocks from the church, before reemerging two days later on the wooden deck at a couple’s mobile home. Brodsky told jurors they would hear from them how he admitted to being the person who killed “those people” that they had probably heard about. They prayed with him, fed him and allowed him to call his mother, Brodsky said.
Avalos asked for beer before leaving — knowing it was the last chance to have one. And after he left, the couple called 911 and then drove to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to report what happened, Brodsky said. A caravan of deputies and detectives arrived at the mobile home to find Avalos drinking, with his .45 automatic caliber pistol at his side.
In testimony, Avalos’ uncle, sheriff’s office Lt. Joel Perez, recalled how Avalos had called him just after the slayings.
“He just wanted to let me know that he left two bodies at his house for me,” Perez testified.
His nephew said he was serious and that he didn’t want his kids to see the bodies when they got home from school, Perez said.
“I was drawn back,” Perez said under questioning by Assistant State Attorney Art Brown. “I didn’t ask him any more questions.”
He would talk to his nephew again two days later, just as he was about to be arrested. He would speak to him a third time when lead homicide detectives Jeffrey Bliss and John Kenney called him while they were interviewing Avalos.
Perez testified he did not think Amber Avalos was having an affair with Battle, despite what Andy Avalos had told him numerous times in the months leading up to the killings.
After he testified, Perez sat in the courtroom next to Avalos’ parents, his sister Nora Avalos and Andres Avalos Sr.
Nora Avalos was absent from the courtroom when Perez took the stand, however.
On the other side of the courtroom were members of the Battle family and Amber Avalos’ family.
Jurors saw photographs of both crime scenes during the testimony of several sheriff’s office crime scene technicians.
Amber Avalos — whose body was mangled and nearly unrecognizable — was half-suspended in the home’s laundry room, surrounded by a mess of laundry. Potter was seen lying face down in the home’s hallway, purse still in hand. Battle was seen lying not far from the church office door.
Teachers at the Happy Cubs Daycare, where the couple’s then 4-year-old attended preschool, testified about their encounter with Avalos when he dropped the boys off, after having already murdered the women, according to prosecutors.
Joanne Gartley, one of the teachers, made a comment to the boy about being late, to which Avalos said, “Is that a problem. Am I in trouble?”
His tone of voice was louder than usual, she said.
She agreed when asked by defense attorney Andrew Crawford that Avalos seemed nervous, antsy and paranoid.
Avalos had five beers before deputies and detectives with the sheriff’s office arrived at the mobile home to arrest him, Deputy Joshua Escher testified. Avalos cooperated during his arrest, for which Escher thanked him, he said.
“He said he had thought about going a different way, but thought otherwise,” Escher said.