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Testimony Begins In Capital Murder Case

 

The victim’s husband and a Halifax County investigator who was at the first crime scene — a trailer where prosecutors say Dennis Lee Daniel smashed Courtney Marie Servais with a glass coffee pot and ripped out her hair with tape — both testified Wednesday in Daniel’s capital murder trial.

Daniel is facing charges of capital murder, abduction, robbery and carjacking in the December kidnapping and death of Courtney Marie Servais. Servais went missing Dec. 19 and was found Dec. 24.

Daniel faces life in prison or the death penalty if found guilty of capital murder. In Virginia, prosecutors can pursue the death penalty if the defendant is charged with first-degree murder plus another serious felony, in this case, robbery.

On Wednesday, Commonwealth’s Attorney David Grimes showed the jury 30 photographs of the doublewide trailer, where Daniel lived with another woman who he had a romantic relationship with.

A Halifax County investigator, Jimmy Clay, spent more than four hours there cataloging and photographing evidence. Clay testified that he wasn’t working Dec. 19, but another investigator called him in.

“He said he had a crime scene that he couldn’t handle by himself,” Clay said.

Grimes flipped through the photos on a projector as the jury watched. Picture after picture showed blood and hair.

A picture of a bathroom popped onto the screen. Grimes asked Clay to describe what he found there.

“You have tape here, tape here,” Clay said as he drew jurors attention to parts of the screen with a laser pointer. “The tape had what appeared to be blood stains on it and hair.”

Investigators also found blood on the shower curtain and the back of the shower.

In the doublewide, they found a rug with a bloody footprint, scissors, tape dispensers and the handle of a broken glass coffee pot, Clay said.

Courtney’s husband, Steven Servais, also testified Wednesday.

He said that his wife was treated at Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute — where Courtney met Daniel — for postpartum depression after the birth of her third child.

Courtney, 30, left the hospital in June 2008 and returned home, Steven said. He testified that he asked Courtney to leave in October after she said she spent a weekend with Daniel. But Courtney came back home when a November electrical explosion sent Steven to the hospital with second- and third-degree burns.

The couple’s relationship started turning around, and Steven noticed that Courtney put back on her five-year anniversary ring that he gave her.

Courtney stayed with Steven until Dec. 19 — the day she went missing.

Intentions To Hurt, Humiliate, Punish

During opening statements Wednesday morning, Grimes said Servais and Daniel had an intimate relationship that continued after they both left the mental hospital.

Months later, Servais and Daniel learned that they both had not been faithful to each other.

“What happened there is a seed that was planted for a time bomb that was set and went off Dec. 19, 2008,” Grimes said.

On that day, Servais met with Daniel. They ended up at Daniel’s doublewide trailer.

“You’ll have evidence that what happened in that doublewide was a nightmare for Courtney Servais,“ Grimes said.

They left the doublewide, and Grimes said the defendant took Servais to an abandoned house off Buckhorn Road, where Daniel beat her to death.

“The blows had enough force to press her head into the ground and make a mold,” Grimes said.

Daniel hid her body nearby. Grimes said police found him with some of her possessions, including her clothes.

Steven Milani, a defense attorney for Daniel, told the court during his opening statement that Daniel accepted responsibility for the murder.

Milani said Servais dropped in on Daniel Dec. 19. The pair drove around, visiting Paul’s Place and Buckhorn Creek.

“They rolled up their pant legs,” Milani said. “They put their toes in the water; they socialized.”

Also that day, Daniel drank brandy and took six or seven Xanax. Milani said an expert witness would tell the jury about the mental and health effects from mixing alcohol and Xanax.

Later that day, Milani said Daniel went into a violent rage after Servais mentioned his son. Servais and Daniel’s son had had an affair, Milani said.

“He smashed a glass coffee pot on Courtney’s head,” Milani said of the fight at the doublewide. “His intention was to hurt; his intention was to humiliate; his intention was to punish.”

Daniel then took Servais to Buckhorn Road, and they got out of the car, Milani said. Servais ran back to it and locked the doors, which enraged Daniel. He ripped out the passenger-side window, which wasn’t closed, and pulled Servais from the car.

“He smashed her head with a piece of lumber he found there,” Milani said. “He did that out of anger that was inside him.”

But Milani said Daniel should not be guilty of capital murder because he had no intention to rob Servais.

To get the death penalty in Virginia, prosecutors have to prove that a first-degree murder occurred during the commission of another violent felony, in this case, robbery.

“There was a murder committed,” Milani said. “But in this back and forth, there’s no talk about robbery. I’m going to ask you to find there wasn’t a robbery.”

On Thursday a lieutenant for the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office testified in the capital murder case.


The prosecution focused some of its questions on what personal items were found on the victim and in her car after she went missing Dec. 19.


To find Daniel guilty of capital murder, the jury must find that he killed Courtney Servais during the commission of another violent felony, in this case, robbery. 


Lieutenant Todd Barrett investigated Courtney Servais' Honda after police found it. He said that a trash bag in the Honda had some of Servais' clothes.

"I found a pair of lady's boots," Barrett said. "I found a pair of lady's pants, a lady's blouse."


He said that he did not find any jewelry in the car.

Barrett also responded to the abandoned house where cadaver dogs found the victim's body.
He said that no jewelry was found on her body or at the crime scene.


Servais' babysitter testified Monday that Servais dropped her kids off at her house on Dec. 19.
The babysitter said that Servais had on a gold necklace and gold rings.

 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is reprinted with permission from the Register and Bee.)