The Valdosta Daily Times
Closing arguments were made Tuesday afternoon in Lowndes County Superior Court, but the jury could not come to a timely verdict concerning the guilt or innocence of Wayne Luberda in the case of his wife's untimely death.
After roughly an hour of deliberation, a note from the jury chamber emerged and requested a clarification of the legal definitions of malice murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Defense attorney James Jarvis said that no evil intent prompted his client’s actions when, on or around Oct. 7, 2011, Luberda wrapped his wife’s hemorrhaging head into a white waste bag and stowed her lifeless body in the master bedroom’s closet.
Four years removed from a prison stint for a forgery conviction, Luberda said he feared a return to the penitentiary after he realized that wife Maria was dead.
“The first thing I did was check her pulse,” said Luberda from the witness stand. “She was dead, so I didn’t think about calling 911. I knew the first thing they’d do was lock me up.”
Assistant Southern District Attorney Tracy Chapman said Luberda gave detectives three accounts of what happened, which were all lies. His first story, he didn’t know of his wife’s death, was shot down. He asked investigators to perform welfare checks on his wife while he was arrested.
“Why didn’t you call her from the jail – you get one phone call,” said Chapman. “It’s because you can’t call a dead woman. And why didn’t you put her on your visitor’s list? It’s because a dead woman can’t visit you.”
In Luberda’s second account to investigators, he pointed to a number of different parties who were more likely to have murdered his wife.
He pointed to Maria’s ex-husband, who was affiliated with gang activity, and he pointed to one of her ex-boyfriends. He pointed out the coyote, or human trafficker, who had led Maria across the border illegally and he pointed to the person who had supplied her with forged documents.
In his third and final story, which endured a couple of revisions, he said that Maria came after him with a knife. He said he pushed her in self-defense and she hit her head against the sharp edge of the kitchen’s counter.
Whether he truly harnessed the power to push Maria hard enough to simulate the impact of a second-story fall or a severe car accident, as testimony claimed Monday, a medical examiner believes that a blunt object was used to inflict the cranial fracturing that Maria suffered. Autopsy photos showed that the back of Maria’s skull had been broken into five sizable pieces, some of which penetrated into her gray matter.
“Well, he couldn’t have snapped and struck (Maria),” said Chapman. “But we are to believe that Maria snapped and came after him with a knife.”
Luberda’s attorney argued that the incident was nothing more than manslaughter.
“How can you have malice murder, without the essential element of malice?" said Jarvis in his closing arguments.
Luberda admitted that his first two stories of his wife’s death were false.
“This entire case comes down to one question,” said Chapman. “Do I believe Wayne Dean Luberda, who’s told lie after lie, or do I believe (the medical examiner)?"
Today, the trial heads into its third and likely final day. And for those waiting for the answer to Chapman’s question, the jury is still out.
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