COLUMBIA — Opening statements and testimony began Tuesday in the trial of Tausha L. Fields, accused of murdering her ex-husband Mitchell Wayne Kemp.
Fields is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in Kemp's death.
Prosecutors believe Fields led Kemp to a property owned by Gregory Morton, with whom Fields was in a relationship, and that Morton fatally shot Kemp and hid the body on the property. Prosecutors argued Fields is to blame for the murder of her estranged husband, though the defense said she was not at fault.
Andrea Hayes, Boone County assistant prosecuting attorney, began her opening statement by telling the jury that the case is a confusing story, involving several people and various places.
Hayes said that Fields, while still married to Kemp, moved in to Morton’s Deer Park Road home. Field and Kemp’s then-1-year-old daughter also moved in.
“Greg loved Tausha deeply,” Hayes said.
Morton believed Fields was divorced, Hayes said, and Morton married her Aug. 12, 2004, in Arkansas.
Fields told Morton that Kemp had molested their daughter, Hayes said. A few weeks later, Fields told Morton that Kemp raped her off the highway. The next day, Aug. 24, 2004, Kemp was murdered.
Hayes told the jury that, on that day, Fields drove Kemp to Morton’s home, where he was awaiting their arrival, and that Morton shot Kemp five times in the chest. Hayes said Morton then walked away to get a tarp. During that time, Kemp “reaches up his hand toward Tausha and she kicks his hand away,” Hayes told the jury, making a kicking motion. Morton shot Kemp a sixth time, and he and Fields then buried the body in the yard.
In the defense's opening statements, Fields' public defender, Paul Hood, acknowledged that Fields was at the scene of the murder, but he pinned the blame on Morton.
“Greg wanted to control Tausha and remove Mitch from Tausha’s life, and that’s exactly what he did,” Hood said.
Hood also acknowledged that Fields initially lied to investigators, who interviewed Fields six times in 2008.
Hood cited her later cooperation as proof of her innocence.
“Tausha led them to Mitchell Kemp’s body," Hood said. "Tausha, in a sense, solved Mitchell Kemp’s murder.”
Morton was arrested three weeks after the body was discovered; Fields was arrested six months after.
Hood also pointed out that Morton had taken a plea deal to testify against Fields in exchange for a lesser sentence. Morton pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in June 2009 and will be sentenced after Fields' trial, on June 28.
“Greg Morton knew he was in trouble,” Hood said. “He knew he had one way out, and the one way out was to say Tausha had planned it all.”
After the opening statements, Carol Kemp, Mitchell Kemp’s mother, took the stand.
“Mitch and I always had a wonderful relationship,” she said. “We were very, very close.”
Kemp recalled her worry when she hadn’t heard from her son for some weeks in 2004. She said she told the Boone County Sheriff’s Department that she thought something was wrong, but they told her there was not much evidence to prove foul play.
Detective Thomas O’Sullivan of the Boone County Sheriff's Department put more research into the missing persons investigation in 2008. He said the tapes of interviews from two of Fields' ex-boyfriends — whom she'd dated after she'd broken up with Morton — opened up the case.
Ted Anderson, who worked for the Columbia Police Department, and Shane Kemp, Mitchell Kemp’s 20-year-old son, also took the witness stand before the court broke for lunch at 12:15 p.m.
The trial is expected to continue through next week.