- Last Updated on 10:45 AM 01/06/10
- BY MATT TOMSIC/DANVILLE REGISTER & BEE
CHATHAM — Dennis Lee Daniel fidgeted on the witness stand as he answered questions Friday in Pittsylvania County Circuit Court.
The questions finished, and Judge Charles Strauss called a lunch recess.
After testimony, Daniel sat still and silent in his black suit jacket. His elbow rested on his thigh. His palm supported his forehead. Daniel stood up, lumbered across the courtroom and winced as he walked to his holding cell.
During his testimony, Daniel talked about his affair with Courtney Marie Servais, disrespect and his killing of Servais. Daniel is facing charges of capital murder, abduction, robbery and carjacking in the December kidnapping and death of Servais. Servais went missing Dec. 19 and was found Dec. 24.
Daniel testified about phone calls he made to Servais from prison in Halifax County on Dec. 5. The pair learned that neither had been faithful to the other, and Servais told Daniel that she had slept with his adult son.
Defense attorney Steven Milani asked Daniel why that made him angry.
“Disrespect,” Daniel said. “She had a relationship with my family. She spent Thanksgiving with my family.”
“How important is somebody showing respect to you?” Milani asked.
“A lifestyle that I led,” Daniel said, referring to his time as a drug dealer. “You had to be respectful. If not, you were taken advantage of.”
“Not having respect is dangerous?” Milani said.
“Yes. It could get you killed,” Daniel said.
Daniel walked Milani through Dec. 19, the day Daniel said he killed Servais. He said his memory of that day is spotty.
The defendant testified that Servais said something about Daniel’s son while they were at a trailer in Halifax County, where Daniel was staying.
“It was to the effect that I’m nothing like him,” Daniel said. “When that was said, I snapped.”
Daniel slapped her with the palm of his hand many times and smashed a coffee pot on her head.
“Were you taking your anger out on her?” Milani asked.
“Of course I was,” Daniel replied. “I was beating her. I taped her legs; I taped her hands. I did that to instill fear in her. To make her suffer.”
Daniel said he used his belt to choke Servais, not the extension cord that investigators found.
“I had my belt around her throat,” Daniel said. “I had my knee, and I was applying pressure. I felt her go limp.”
They left the trailer, and Daniel started driving, he said. He had no intentions of going anywhere, but they got to an abandoned house in Red Oak Hollow, where Daniel stopped the car, and they got out.
“I was ranting,” Daniel said. “I don’t know what I was saying.”
He turned his back to Servais; she ran to the car and cranked it.
“She was going to leave me,” Daniel said.
He tried to kick out the driver’s side window, but he couldn’t. He went to the passenger side, where the window was rolled down. Daniel pulled the glass out, turned the car off and pulled the emergency brake. He got Servais out of the car.
“She was laying on the ground,” Daniel said. “It pushed me back over the edge.
“I hit that girl in the head and watched her chest stop. I watched that girl stop breathing.”
Daniel said the object was heavy enough that he didn’t have to swing it. But he didn’t remember what it was.
“I remember dragging her body by her arm,” Daniel said.
Daniel said he didn’t take any jewelry from Servais.
“Do you know why you killed Courtney?” Milani asked.
“There’s no excuse,” Daniel said. “I didn’t mean to kill her. I had no plans to kill her. It’s senseless.”
During cross-examination, Pittsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney David Grimes pressed Daniel on the details of Dec. 19. Grimes asked if Daniel wrapped Servais’ head in clear tape. He held a plastic evidence bag that contained tape with blood and hair. Daniel maintained that he couldn’t remember.
He stressed that he wasn’t trying to hide anything.
“You and I want the same thing for me,” Daniel told Grimes. “I want the death penalty. You want the death penalty.”
The defense finished presenting its evidence Friday and renewed its motion to strike the capital murder and robbery charges. The two sides will argue the motion this morning, when court resumes.
Closing arguments also begin today and will be followed by jury instructions and deliberation. If Daniel is found guilty of capital murder, the defense will present mitigating evidence, which is evidence that shows a defendant may deserve mercy. The jury will then decide whether the defendant will receive life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is reprinted with permission from the Register and Bee.)