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Worst fears confirmed; Jury hears about murder victim’s discovery, injuries

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, January 20, 2018
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An unexpected visit from her nephew a few days before Christmas in 2015 left Boyd resident Cheryl Cornstubble curious about what he might have left behind.

That search ultimately led to the discovery of a body and the beginning of a murder investigation.

Jake Abel

Her nephew, Jake Charles Abel, is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Soccorro Taylor, whose body was found in the shallow grave near Cornstubble’s home in the 400 block of County Road 4680.

Following jury selection Tuesday, testimony in the case began Wednesday in 271st District Court in Decatur.

In his opening argument before jurors, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Berry told the jury that Abel and Taylor had a history of family violence that led to a deadly encounter.

“This is just the end result of something spiraling out of control,” said Berry, who is prosecuting the case along with Assistant District Attorney Lindy Borchardt.

Abel’s attorney, Christy Jack, told the jury during her opening argument that investigators had not done enough to look for other possible suspects.

“Jake Abel is a convenient suspect,” she said. “His relationship was stormy. But just because you are guilty of assault doesn’t mean you are guilty of murder.”

A VISIT AND A DISCOVERY

On Thursday, Cornstubble testified that she had been sleeping when Abel knocked on her door on the morning of Dec. 21, 2015. She recalled he was carrying a six-pack of Shiner Bock beer with him, and after visiting for about 30 minutes, Abel left because he said he needed to let his dog out of the pickup.

Cornstubble said she fell back to sleep and when she woke up, she noticed that Abel had backed the pickup down on the west side of her property. When she walked down to where the truck was parked, she noticed a large amount of trash that appeared to have been taken out of the bed of the truck.

After returning to her house, she fell asleep once again.

A little later, Abel came back but was wearing different clothes, she testified. As they visited again, Cornstubble said Abel told her, “Aunt Cheryl, I owe you a shovel because I broke yours.” Abel then left the property.

Cornstubble said she was sick that week and didn’t go outside much, if at all. That following Saturday, Dec. 26, her friend, David Leila came to visit her, and the two decided to look around the property to see if Abel had left trash, she said.

They first found a camouflaged tarp with tape on one end. When they opened it a little, they saw what they thought was a large amount of blood, Cornstubble said.

Nearby, they found what appeared to be drag marks on the ground leading from near where Cornstubble had seen Abel’s truck parked. The marks went across a creek and under a fence to a neighboring property in a wooded area. They followed the path until they found what appeared to be freshly dug dirt.

When Berry asked what was going through her mind at this point, Cornstubble replied, “I was scared that Jake had done something wrong.”

Cornstubble then told her son, James, about what they had found, and he called the sheriff’s office to let them know they may have found a place where a body was buried.

As the three waited for officers to arrive, they looked around the property some more, she said, and located clothes laying on a lawnmower handle as well as a pick ax with mud the same color as the dirt they had seen on the freshly-disturbed ground in the woods.

James Cornstubble testified that since it was beginning to rain, he moved the muddy clothes and pick ax to the porch so the mud wouldn’t wash off.

When questioned by Jack and her co-counsel, Alex Boyd, the three admitted that they hadn’t seen the items or the possible grave site prior to Dec. 26 and couldn’t say with certainty who had left those items or when they were left.

INVESTIGATORS TESTIFY

During the first week of testimony, four officers who responded to the Boyd crime scene testified.

Lt. Chad Lanier said investigators dug into the freshly disturbed dirt and found the body of a woman later identified as Taylor. He said investigators also found two bottles of Shiner Bock beer in the grave site.

Lanier said he located Abel at his mother’s house in Decatur that same night. He said Abel had several items belonging to Taylor including debit cards, a journal and personal photos.

Jack questioned each officer about what she argued were mistakes or errors made during the investigation: not properly preserving the grave site crime scene from the rain, the Boyd crime scene not being marked off properly, evidence being handled improperly, and buildings at both the Boyd property and the location in Fort Worth where investigators believe the murder took place that had never been searched.

FATAL WOUNDS

On Friday, Dr. Emily Ogden, who oversaw Taylor’s autopsy at the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office, testified about the injuries she found on the victim. The jury was shown photos of numerous wounds on the back side of Taylor’s head, including multiple blunt force injuries and sharp force injuries, such as those that would be caused by a knife.

Taylor’s throat had also been cut, and Ogden testified that both the carotid artery and the windpipe had been severed.

The autopsy also revealed a number of bruises on Taylor’s body that were received prior to death, although Ogden said tests were not performed to see exactly when those bruises were received.

Jack had Ogden describe the different types of lab tests that the medical examiner’s office can perform and pointed out that neither law enforcement investigators nor the district attorney’s office requested those additional tests that could have provided more evidence.

In reference to the stab wounds, Jack had Ogden point out that it appeared some of the wounds may have been made by different weapons or possibly more than one person.

As of press time Friday, Texas Ranger Ron Pettigrew had begun to testify, and the jury was being shown a video and audio file of his interviews with Abel.

The trial will continue on Monday.

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