A Gwinnett County jury on Monday heard the son of accused murderer Joanna Hayes tearfully ask the following in a phone conversation recorded by police: "Mom, why did you do it?"
Hayes, 45, has been charged with shooting and killing her daughter-in-law, Heather Strube, 26, in a Target parking lot in Snellville on April 26, 2009. Prosecutors contend the Luthersville woman was disguised in a wig and mustache when she walked up to Strube, who was buckling her 18-month-old son into a car seat, and shot Strube in the head.
In the same phone conversation, Hayes repeatedly told her son that she didn't kill Strube, who was divorcing her son.
Prosecutors played a recorded phone conversation they said came a few weeks after the slaying, and minutes after Snellville Police detectives had showed the son, Steven Strube, a video from the Target parking lot. In the footage, a person in obvious disguise strides toward Heather Strube. The same person is seen walking away a few minutes later. The actual shooting was not captured on camera.
Strube's reaction to the video and subsequent conversation with his mother were played Monday during Hayes' murder trial. Strube can be heard crying on the phone the moment his mother answers. He tells her he has just seen the video.
"Mom, it looks like you. It looks just like you. Walks like you," Strube said, sobbing. "Why did you do it?"
Hayes replied, "I didn't, Steven."
Strube continued to press his mother, but her response stayed the same.
"Steven, what did I have to gain by doing that?" Hayes said.
Strube replied, "Mom, I don't know. Did you do it? Seriously, do not lie to me."
Hayes insists "Steven, no I did not."
The conversation ended a few minutes later with Hayes saying she had better go and put some clothes on because police were probably coming to arrest her.
Prosecutors said Hayes disliked her daughter-in-law and did not want Heather Strube to gain custody of her grandson in the impending divorce with her son.
Countering, defense attorneys said that Snellville Police locked onto Hayes as a suspect early on and never considered anyone else, and that Hayes is innocent.
During cross-examination from Hayes' defense attorney Kenneth Traub, Steven Strube told how he was an emotional person and reacted strongly to the video because police were repeatedly telling him, "It's her, isn't it?" He said the line of questioning broke down his resistance and confused him. He said now he does not believe his mother was the person shown on the video. When his telephone conversation was recorded, he said he was "about to have a nervous breakdown."
Said Steven Strube, "I started questioning everything my mother had done up to that day. I just questioned what all they had on them, wondering why they thought it was my mom so much."
Earlier in the day, jurors also heard testimony from Hope Przybylski, who said she grew up with Steven and Heather Strube in church and spent three or four evenings a week at Joanna Hayes' home. After reviewing surveillance footage of the suspected shooter aired on the news, Przybylski said she recognized the person as Hayes.
Przybylski said that Hayes was "very controlling" and that Heather Strube was fearful of her during the divorce. She said Heather Strube confided to her that she didn't feel physically safe around Hayes.
"Those were her exact words," Przybylski said. "She didn't know if Joanna would try to hurt her."
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